Ratings are on a 1 (lowest) – 10 (highest) scale. 5 is the mean for comparative assessments. Above 5 is comparative advantage. Below 5 is comparative disadvantage. Northwestern/Penn State are the mean comparison for the conference. Ohio State/Alabama are the mean comparison for national titles.
Take-aways: Good recruiting on the offensive side, but not as elite as defense. QB and Interior line recruiting are the strengths of the class. Good prospects at TE and RB. LOTS of slot receivers, especially for a team that regularly uses multiple TEs and a FB. Principal concerns are the lack of speed at WR and the lack of offensive tackles.
Brandon Peters is a top-notch prospect who had a monster senior year. Will most likely red-shirt and compete in the future.
Importance to scheme: 10. Arguably the most important position on the team.
Importance to depth chart: 6. Important to take one every year, but there are many on the roster.
Comparative advantage to the conference: 7. The B1G is fielding some of the best QB play in the country. Even Iowa has a really good one. Still, I’d take Peters over any incoming recruit in the conference and Harbaugh will make one of the QBs great every year.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 5. Harbaugh-coached QBs will be better than whoever Alabama fields, but there are still some crazy good, Heisman-level athletes that often emerge and carry a team unexpectedly to the playoff.
#2) running back
Kareem Walker is a very good all-around prospect who could compete for playing time early. Chris Evans is a good prospect for 3rd-down back or slot receiver.
Importance to scheme: 7. Important to have a good runner, but an elite runner is a luxury.
Importance to depth chart: 7.
Comparative advantage to the conference: 3. Most of the B1G has better RBs than us. Hopefully, Walker can help change that.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 1. We need to get to the point where we have very good running backs. Our competition has Heisman candidates.
#3) full back
Kingston Davis is probably a very good prospect as a running fullback, like Houma. Probably not a feature back, though.
Importance to scheme: 7. We like to use the FB
Importance to depth chart: 6.
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference: mostly N/A
Compartative advantage to national championship contenders: mostly N/A
#4) tight end
Asiasi, Eubanks, and McKeon are all very good prospects.
Importance to scheme: 8
Importance to depth chart: 7
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference: 8, I guess. Why does Ohio State even recruit tight ends?
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 5. We have great tight ends, but so do Alabama, Florida State, and Notre Dame. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the top tight end prospects tend to go to schools that don’t really utilize the position much.
#5) slot receiver
This is the correlate of the weirdness at OLB on defense. What does it all mean?
Nate Johnson, Dylan Crawford, Eddie McDoom, maybe Chris Evans, maybe David Long. Very, very good prospects at this position, although we seem to be lacking top end speed.
Importance to scheme: 5 This year’s slot recruiting was very successful, but it also seemed kind of odd because we don’t utilize a slot as much as many teams. Jed Fisch does love the WR screen, though, and these players all seem to have good acceleration and YAC ability. I am kind of intrigued about whether or not the emphasis for this position in recruiting means anything schematically. It could signal an attempt to exploit Michigan State’s defensive schematic weaknesses or could just be what Jed Fisch likes or it could mean nothing.
Importance to depth chart: 5 We now have better depth at slot receiver than we do at nearly any other position. We could implement the run ‘n shoot, if we wanted to.
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference: ? Have to wait and see. Having the best slot receiver outside of Ohio State isn’t usually a high bar to cross, though.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 4. Some of our guys may become great, but right now the edge belongs to Clemson and Alabama.
#6) outside receiver
We might not have recruited this position at all, because Ahmir Mitchell and Brad Hawkins are likely to play safety. Maybe one of slot receivers is actually slated for the outside?
Importance to scheme: 7. I might be inflating this because I think it’s important to have an outside receiver who can take the top off the defense.
Importance to depth chart: 7. Starting to worry about this. Chesson is a legit All-American caliber player with blazing speed. Afther that, top end speed and athleticism is worrisome. Darboh is a solid possession receiver. Drake Harris is a question mark. Mo Ways is unproven.
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference: 8/3. If Chesson stays healthy we have the best outside receiver in the conference. If not, I start to get really worried.
Comparative advantage to national title contenders: 6/1. Chesson just schooled Vernon Hargreaves. After that, we may have problems against national championship caliber defenses. One of these new shifty slot guys could be interesting on the outside, though. Some of them are pretty good blockers and they have ideal acceleration/shiftiness for the WR screens Fisch seems to like.
#7) Interior OL
Bredeson and Onwenu are elite prospects. Bredeson may end up at tackle. Onwenu could play DT, but I doubt that would be an every-down thing.
Importance to scheme: 8. Harbaugh and Drevno like to pull, trap, and road-grade our way to victory. 2013 flashbacks remind me that the line is anchored in the middle. It’s harder to find an athlete with the tools to be an elite LT, but the middle of the line is still most important.
Importance to depth chart: 7. We didn’t land any interior OL in last year’s class and we have a depth problem at OT that forces players best suited for the interior to kick outside. Mason Cole’s lack of a red-shirt and the recruiting gap in last year’s class raise worrisome depth concerns about 2017.
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference: 6. Bredeson and Ownenu are each as good or better than other team’s best interior OL prospect ( Menet (PSU), Raridon (NEB), Gerald (OSU)). If we had landed Davis, we would have had a strong comparative advantage in this year’s class. As it stands we have a slight one. With respect to overall depth, we have a significant advantage over the good to middling B1G teams (Penn State, Maryland) and may be a draw with great teams (Ohio State) in 2016.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 5. We did fine recruiting this year and we should have a good group this year. Depth concerns in 2017 are a problem. In Drevno we trust.
#8) Exterior OL
Maybe Bredeson. Maybe Spanellis. Both seem much better suited for the interior. Ouch.
Importance to scheme: 7. 2013 taught us that, contrary to popular wisdom, the interior might be slightly more important than the tackles. It’s easier for FBs and TEs to help out in pass-blocking in our scheme. It’s easier for play-action passing to help as well. Still, devoting extra bodies to that task is a limitation we’d rather not have to accept.
Importance to depth chart: 9. Depth at OT, especially LT, could only be worse if we had no starting caliber players at all. Magnuson is fine at RT, but it is his last year. Newsome has the physical tools to play LT, but he has yet to prove himself as a starter. After that, it’s Bushell-Beatty and Ulizio, both of whom are considered projects and huge question marks. Tulley-Tillman is gone. Mason Cole can play there, but should be on the inside. Dawson and Kugler are out of the question. Gaping hole in recruiting that the interior OL experienced in 2015.
Comparative advantage to the conference: 2. If Newsome meets his potential and stays healthy, everything should be gravy. If not, we are going to have an ok LT and a good RT. In a conference consistently stacked with pass-rushing DEs (especially our two main rivals), that is not ideal. Most B1G teams have a more proven LT and more depth. On the bright side, Newsome has the (completely untapped) potential to be All-conference and Cole/Bredeson are solid, if less than ideal, contingency plans. Bredeson lacks ideal height for tackle and no other recruits can play tackle. A commit was dropped in January due to a poor senior season and inadequate development. Stanford flipped our best tackle prospect shortly thereafter. We failed to flip an in-state tackle from Iowa at the last minute. Compare that to our slot receiver recruiting where we recruited a seemingly 4-5 deep set of talented prospects over the entire cycle, telling those lower on the board that we want them but need to wait to see how many slots are available. The obvious self-inflicted failure of this recruiting cycle.
Comparative advantage to national title contenders: 1. Newsome might work out, but he’s our silver bullet. Otherwise, we will have to help out the LT in pass blocking situations to compete with our in-conference foes, let alone the big boys. Fortunately, we have the scheme to do that and help may be on the way in the class of 2017.
Quinn Nordin is a Wolverine with the potential to be a great one!
Ratings are on a 1(lowest) - 10(highest) scale. (Edit: 5 is the mean. Above 5 is a comparative advantage. Below 5 is a comparative disadvantage.) Relation to current depth chart and principal opponents is included throughout.
Take-aways: Rashan Gary is a coup, but Rashan Gary with David Long and Lavert Hill could lay the foundation for the most dominant defense in college football. Neither ILB nor DT are as dire of concerns in the short or medium term as some folks seem to think. OLB and the HSP are unkowns over the long term as Brown takes over and Peppers departs. Brown as DC makes OLB one of the most intriguing positions in the class. If you are looking for a sleeper of the year candidate, that is a good place to start.
#1) defensive end
Michigan lands a generational talent in Rashan Gary. The two Johnsons are both very good prospects.
Importance to scheme: 10.
Importance to depth chart: 7. DL is deep, but Gary fills a long sought need at 'elite pass rusher.'
Comparative advantage to the rest of conference: 8. B1G boasts excellent pass-rushing DEs and recruited very well at the position again in 2016. However, Gary has the potential to be a generational talent.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 8. Rashan Gary has that much potential.
#2) Defensive Tackle
Rashan Gary is elite. Dwumfour will eventually be at NT/3T. Onwenu might move over.
Importance to scheme: 8.
Importance to depth: 6. Might be critical to 2017, depending on whether or not Mone leaves for the draft.
Comparative advantage to the rest of conference: 10. Ryan Glasgow was one of the best players on defense this year. Bryan Mone might end up being better than Glasgow. They will make our ILBs look better than they really are. Rashan Gary is the best prospect in the country. All of these players could probably start for any team in the B1G.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 9. The Glasgow/Mone rotation is the best NT/3T rotation in the country. Gary is the best recruit in the country. Onwenu is a very, very large man who will probably play OL. We have the best DL in the country.
#3) inside linebackers
Devin Bush Jr. could compete for playing time immediately. Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Dytarious Johnson provide solid options.
Importance to scheme: 5. Our monster DTs should keep blockers off the ILB.
Importance to depth chart: 7. I’m not as freaked out about this as most fans are. Gedeon, McCray and Furbush all have solid tools. Between them and the three recruits, we should be able to find two capable starters. I honestly think position coaching was a problem here last year and Brown is known for his LB coaching. Hope I’m right about this.
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference: 4. Riley Bullough, a good, but not great B1G ILB, is far more proven than our LBs. On the other hand, both Bush and Mbem-Bosse are higher rated recruits than any other incoming ILBs in the B1G.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 1. Compare our ILBs to Alabama’s Reuben Jones and Ben Davis. We are hoping for solid, unspectacular play. They expect All-American level play.
#4) outside linebackers/WDE
This is where it really gets wierd. Carlo Kemp is an OLB/DE hybrid type that will probably red-shirt. Josh Uche is a low ranked OLB prospect who is faster than all of our WR commits. Devin Gil was originally a safety prospect and he is also faster than most of our WR commits. Ron Johnson might fit this role.
Importance to scheme: 1/9 Very unimportant in the near-term. Will eventually be very important under Brown. Expect red-shirts with a schematic transition to more 3-4 and less Hybrid Space Player after Peppers departs.
Importance to depth chart: 8. Important for Brown to bring in the type of athletes he will eventually utilize. Expect this to become more important in future years.
Comparative advantage to rest of conference: 2. Very few OLBs on roster, hard to project current recruits. Even so, it’s hard to beat MSU’s STAR LB and Ohio State’s players, including incoming 5-star Keandre Jones.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 2, but give it time.
#5) Hybrid Space Player
Khaleke Hudson is a big hitter, but he’s not nearly as fast as Peppers. Long and Hill are fast, but they’re almost certainly not going to be as good against the run as Peppers. Take away: Peppers is sui generis.
Importance to scheme: 10/4. Critically important in the near term, especially against spread offenses. Likely to move away from it, as a matter of degree, when Peppers departs and OLB rises in importance.
Importance to depth: 2. Come on man, Peppers screen-obliterating, slot-cancelling athleticism can’t be replaced. All this heir apparent stuff is just crazy talk. Bask in the fact that we are blessed to watch Peppers play in the Maize and Blue and don’t set yourself of for disappointment farther down the road. We do need to identify solid nickel-backs who are capable run defenders, but that’s not the same as the pipe-dream of building HSP depth.
Comparative advantage to the rest of conference: 10. Peppers is sui generis. Enjoy watching him play while we can.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 10. Peppers is sui generis. Enjoy him doing his thing.
Michigan lands David Long and Lavert Hill, two elite athletes with the potential to be lock-down corners.
Importance to scheme: 9. Second only to an elite pass rusher. Especially devastating when paired with elite pass rusher.
Importance to depth chart. 7. Long and Hill are probably crucial to the 2017 depth chart, when Jourdan Lewis, and maybe Peppers, depart.
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference: 10. Both of Michigan’s top 2 prospects have more potential in this role than any other recruit in the B1G East. They will have to vie for playing time behind arguably the best lockdown corner in the country (Jourdan Lewis). UM’s comparative advantage over the B1G here is ridiculous.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders: 8. Long and Hill are comparable to the elite prospects pulled in by the SEC, Florida State/Clemson, and USC. We have the potential to field the strongest elite DL/press coverage combination in the country by a significant margin.
Khaleke Hudson, Josh Metellus, Ahmir Mitchell, and Brad Hawkins.
Importance to scheme: 6, so long as level of play is adequate but unspectacular.
Importance to depth chart. 9. Other than 2016 and '17 recruits, its just Kinnel at S in 2017.
Comparative advantage to the rest of the conference. 5. Our players and recruits stack up well against the rest of the conference, but we don’t have an obvious advantage.
Comparative advantage to national championship contenders. 3. Our safeties won’t undermine our defense, but they won’t be All-Americans either.
Despite losing star guard Caris LeVert for a month due to injury, Michigan currently sits in fourth place at 7-2 in the Big Ten; after a so-so non-conference showing, the Wolverines’ strong start to conference play has allayed any concerns about missing the NCAA Tournament. Still, there’s a lack of clarity with this team – even disregarding the uncertainty regarding LeVert’s return and ability to quickly and seamlessly reintegrate into the lineup.
With the notable exception of the win over Maryland, Michigan still is essentially a team that’s beaten the teams they should’ve beaten and lost to the teams they should’ve lost to (two neutral site games, UConn (loss) and Texas (win), were the only two against opponents close to U-M in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings). For the most part, the Wolverines’ wins in the Big Ten have been rather pedestrian: Rutgers and Minnesota were uninspiring home victories over terrible teams, sweeping Penn State isn’t a notable resume event, and the road wins in Big Ten play – over Illinois and Nebraska – were against teams that will surely miss the NCAA’s.
Still, between that win over the Terrapins, the complete lack of bad losses, and the tantalizing potential of adding an All-American level player to a team that’s already playing pretty well, there’s reason to hope that Michigan can round into a formidable squad heading into postseason play. The schedule from here on out in the Big Ten is undeniably harder – starting this week with home contests against Indiana and Michigan State. After Michigan’s solid start to the conference season, there are a few things we can point to as pretty important moving forward:
[After the jump, those things]
MOD EDIT - Moved to diary section. - LSA
[UPDATE: Yes, I understand the snark regarding length. I apologize that this diary length entry is not in the diary section; however, I was unable to post on the diary. Read or do not, I understand the mistake in location for post. Sorry in advance for length!]
A Brief Essay About Harbaugh, Recruiting In The Modern Age
At the risk of revisiting a topic that my fellow Wolverines have already buried in their proverbial backyards, I will attempt to provide my own sentiment on the recent “blemishes” on the record of Michigan Recruiting. I present to you a two-fold argument for accepting, and even appreciating, the current state of affairs. First, I submit that I have no problem with any actions on the part of our coaching staff and recruiting department given the current trends in modern football recruiting and my own goals for the Michigan Football program. Secondly, I support the notion that if one does share my desires for the University of Michigan to win a National Championship, then that person must also accept that there is no other way for our coaching staff to operate when it comes to recruiting.
On The Actions Of Harbaugh and The Knights Of The Prolate Spheroid-Shaped Table –
In today’s world, there seems to be a “lose-lose” scenario when it comes to recruiting high school-aged student athletes. On the one hand, you can show interest in a young man, tell him that you are avidly recruiting him to come to your university and offer him a spot in the class early on in the process. Doing so shows a sign of good faith and builds a positive rapport with said young man. On the other hand, you wait until the recruit has proven he will develop mentally and physically to become an asset to your football program on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
By being the first coach to show interest in a specific football player, you impress on this student athlete his importance to you, your coaching staff and the university which you represent. However, as the head coach, you are taking a major risk by accepting a commitment from this person. Should this young man commit and then rest on his laurels or not develop as expected, then a pivotal place in the recruiting class could be wasted on a non-contributor that has shown a lack of drive. By waiting, you risk having other coaches swoop in, thus handicapping your chances of securing that individual as a scholarship athlete. The head coach must balance this risk and do his best to evaluate which sixteen and seventeen-year-old boys he will offer a two-way commitment to for a spot in a very, very finite group.
Once the offers have been handed out, the “lose-lose” scenarios continue. As the recruiting class fills up, head coaches of elite programs need to make tough decisions about young men that they had previously show interest in. To shed some light on this, let’s examine recent events.
There are two outcomes when a student athlete is told that his spot in a recruiting class is in jeopardy. That student can either bank on getting into the class and cease taking official visits or they can continue to visit other schools until National Signing Day. Basically, you can either be Erik Swenson or you can be Nate Johnson. Either the student athlete looks flaky and takes heat from national media and fans for “committing, but…” The alternative is that athlete makes the school look bad when he is finally confronted by the coaching staff and asked not to come on his upcoming official visit. That student can make comments about how he is “shocked,” that “this came out of nowhere” and that “the coaching staff never mentioned anything” about his position being in jeopardy.
I understand that if a student athlete can be told that there will not be space for him in November it would be more convenient for him than if he is told in January. But I, personally, do not care. I do not think our coaches are employed to pander to, nor coddle young men. I do not think that reserving a spot in a recruiting class for an inferior athlete is healthy for our program or that individual, regardless of when that determination is made. For that matter, I do not think it is a bad thing to disappoint hopeful recruit! Harbaugh said himself, “It’s a meritocracy. Only the best players will be here.” He is not hiding from his recruiting tactics. In fact, he is proud of them. I am too. It should be an honor to be included in a recruiting class at Michigan and these athletes should have to fight the whole way, from the beginning of the recruiting process through graduation, to prove they belong.
Even if you believe some horrible wrongdoing took place in the example of Erik Swenson, think about the case of Eric Fisher. Fisher was either an undersized offensive lineman, or a slow tight-end. He had few offers and eventually landed at Central Michigan. There he developed into a STUD. He was the first overall pick in the NFL draft and was awarded a contract worth $22.1 Million with a $14 Million signing bonus. How about JJ Watt? Would he have ever developed into the man he is unless he was told “no” by all the top programs when he was eighteen-years-old? Possibly, but we will never know for sure. Some young men use the rejection and disappointment of the recruiting process to fuel their desire for greatness. Greatness is a thing only achieved with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Often times the athletes that possess the “obsession for greatness” gene cite rejection and doubt as the primary stimulus for their drive.
I understand the inherent difference between never receiving an offer from Michigan and having one pulled three weeks before National Signing Day. I do suggest that if Erik Swenson is a great football player, there will be a program with room. He is already taking visits to Wisconsin and Oklahoma. If he is not a great player, then he does not have business going to Michigan. He would never see the field and he would ultimately transfer. In either case he benefits. I am not apologetic for his circumstances. I expect that things like this will happen as Jim Harbaugh does his job of weeding out the pretenders and stacking up the contenders. Ultimately, in life, sometimes you get notified in November and sometimes you get notified in January. Sometimes you get hired into a new promising position and the company goes out of business two weeks later. Sometimes you take all your vacation time for a golf trip to Florida and it rains the whole time. Sometimes your flight gets cancelled and you miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. When it comes to recruiting, some will be offended. Haters gon’ hate.
I guess the opinion I have formed is that what happened to Erik Swenson might be the best thing to ever happen to him, rather than the worst. Instead of being a backup-transfer type, maybe he finds a program where he can see the field and develop as an athlete. Maybe he uses the missed opportunity to fuel an inner fire to prove his doubters wrong. Maybe he learns that nothing in life is granted and that in future decisions, he creates backup plans rather than expectations. If you see the positive in this scenario, and you see the positive for Michigan replacing him with someone we expect to be a viable contributor, then you understand my point of view. I wish Erik Swenson the best. I am sorry he had to choose between being taunted by uninformed fans or making Michigan look bad. I am happy for him because he has been given an opportunity to learn important life lessons, he has been given fuel to fire his drive for success and he had been given an opportunity to take a spot in a class where he is wanted, needed and will have a better chance to develop and grow. I hope that one day he looks back and thanks Jim Harbaugh for doubting him as he collects his $15 million signing bonus.
On Competing For A National Championship In The Context Of The Modern World Of Recruiting -
As fans, we will likely never completely understand the conversations between recruiter and the recruited. We will never know who is told to keep their options open, who is told his offer is no longer committable nor, for that matter, when during the process a recruit is told such information. Therefore, we must understand one key piece of the puzzle: that each spot, in every recruiting class, must be reserved for a potentially elite student athlete that will likely contribute to the team’s quest for a National Championship. Some people may disagree with this sentiment. Some people may believe that Michigan should be able to win without operating like all of the other national contenders. In my opinion, those people are incorrect.
Michigan cannot compete for a National Championship without playing the game as it is played today. The way it is played today is that teams like Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Auburn and Clemson are going to fill classes with future NFL athletes from top to bottom. They are not going to reserve a spot for a “locker room guy” or grant a scholarship to a legitimate two-star athlete. In my opinion, the stratification of recruiting classes today is remarkable. The top three are in rarified air. Usually, the top five are elite and will produce a class that can add to the efforts of competing for a playoff spot. The next five classes in the top ten will not be the cornerstones of championship runs. They will be the supporting casts and they might have several future contributors. Teams have competed for National Championships with recruiting classes ranking between ten and twenty. Clemson is one of them. However, Clemson did not win and they had many players in those classes that were far underrated, including Deshaun Watson. Anything outside the top twenty will not help a football team reach for the coveted Promised Land. Top 25 recruiting classes might allow for a run at a B1G championship or a shot at a New Year’s Day Bowl Game.
Take Michigan State for example. Their recruiting classes over the past 5 years have roughly ranked 33, 35, 25, 22 and now they are poised to finish near 15th overall. With talent outside the top ten recruiting classes, Michigan State worked tirelessly to develop its players and compete for several B1G titles. Upon reaching the playoffs, they met Alabama. Alabama’s recruiting classes over the last five years have roughly ranked 1st ,1st ,1st and well… you see where I am going with this. Please, do not think that I am trying to diminish the importance of player development. In fact, given my assertions above, it is clearly my opinion that Mark Dantonio and his staff got his players to reach as high as they possibly could with the materials they had to mold. Alabama was simply able to Reach HigherTM. When you are working with better Legos, you get better final product. It is fairly straight-forward.
I, like many Michigan fans, want my alma mater to win. I want them to produce fine young men, I want them to espouse the virtues of the Michigan Man. But first and foremost, I want them to compete and win. If we want that, we must play the recruiting game. We must not take a single position in any recruiting class for granted. In some ways, the lack of an exact science in the recruiting process leads to the necessity for a shotgun-method-like approach to bringing in the right raw materials to mold into a football team. With that in mind, it seems illogical to bring in a player that you feel will not add to the run for a championship. It does not matter when you finally come to that decision. As I stated before, it might even help a young man develop further if he is turned away. It does not matter when it happens. It does not matter how it happens. It is not our coaches job to appease high school kids and their parents. Our coaches are paid to develop a National Championship-bound football team that bulldozes opponents, supports the community and dominates in the classroom. Anything short of that is a disservice to the University and the fans. I support everything our staff has done in this recruiting cycle and will continue to do in future recruiting cycles. Furthermore, I expect and hope that it will continue and I am proud to say that my team is hungry for the spotlight of the College Football Playoffs.
Supporters of Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon State, Eastern Carolina, Houston, Colorado State, Boston College, BYU and even schools the likes of Michigan State in all likelihood, will NEVER understand this dilemma. They will probably not have to tell four-star football recruits to continue to take visits because there might be a better option for them and for us. Because those programs cannot fit in our shoes, they will always attack how we wear them. It is a burden that all of the elite football programs in the country face. I welcome it with open arms. Just remember, haters don't really hate you, they hate themselves; you are a reflection of what they want to be.
Now that we have reached the halfway point of the Big Ten season (9 games done, 9 to go) I wanted to briefly reflect on what’s happened and then spend some time analyzing the remaining Big Ten schedule.
We have gone 7-2 over our first nine games, with home wins over Penn State, Maryland, Minnesota and Rutgers, road wins at Illinois and Nebraska, and a neutral site win over Penn State. We have two road losses at Purdue and Iowa.
Our remaining home games are Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa. Our remaining road games are Minnesota, Ohio State, Maryland, and Wisconsin.
For the purposes of analysis, I split the Big Ten into three tiers (I didn’t place Michigan into one of these):
· Michigan State
Middle of the Road (not threats to win the conference, but have a reasonable chance to knock off some of the top tier teams on a random day or two, especially on their home courts. Unlike the true bottom dwellers, they have at least a few games where they have looked decent, despite some others where they looked bad):
· Ohio State
True Bottom Dwellers (teams that Michigan/any other top half team should beat with ease, home or away):
· Penn State
Our entire schedule has 8 games against the Top Tier, 5 games against the Middle Tier and 5 games against the Bottom Dwellers. At the halfway point we are 4-0 against the Bottom Dwellers, 2-0 against the Middle Tier, and 1-2 against the Top Tier. We are also 4-0 at home and 3-2 at away/neutral site games).
Overall, our schedule has a bimodal l distribution, if you will; the teams that we play twice are either in the Top Tier (Iowa, Purdue, Maryland) or the Bottom Dwellers (Penn State, Minnesota), so I think our schedule is on the hard side of average due to us having more Top Tier games than basically any other team, but not overwhelmingly so because we also get a few more bottom dweller games than most teams. (On the other hand, you have Michigan State on the absolutely easiest side of the schedule distribution; they also play two Bottom Dwellers twice but only play Indiana, Purdue, Michigan and Maryland once. MSU gets to play a lot of the middle tier schools twice and only one of the Top Tier teams.)
At this point, I consider Michigan having about an 80-85% chance of making the tournament. We have a few good wins (Maryland, Texas, at NC State) and our losses are all to top 30 ish teams. I don’t think we’re locks yet though. If we go 5-4 in our remaining BIG games or better, I’d think we’re in. 4-5 looks iffy/would probably depend on BIG Tourney performance and anything 3-6 or worse would likely disqualify us. While I don’t think this is likely, our February schedule is very difficult so it remains an unlikely possibility that Michigan could collapse.
· We have more home games remaining than road games (5 home, 4 away).
· We only have one ROAD game remaining against a team that would be favored against us on a neutral court (@Maryland). Playing in Madison and Columbus certainly are not easy tasks, but this year we are a better team than either the Badgers or Buckeyes, so it will not present the same challenge as past years (even though those are still losable games, especially Wisconsin, imo). This is one marked improvement over the first half of the schedule, where we had two road games against teams that would be favored against us on a neutral court and we lost both of them.
· Nearly all of our remaining games against the Top Tier teams are at Crisler Center (4 out of 5; basically a combination of the first two points).
THE BAD (not actually bad, just challenging)
· We must still play ALL FIVE Top Tier teams. Therefore, games against the upper echelon of the Big Ten constitute a majority of our remaining schedule. Overall, 8 of our 18 games are against the top tier, but only 3 were in the first half of the season and 5 are in the upcoming half.
· We only have one game remaining against the Bottom Dwellers, and it’s a road game so marginally harder (@Minnesota). This means that in between Top Tier teams we won’t be able to have “off games” as Middle Tier opponents are more than capable of taking down Michigan if we have a bad night (unlike how we were able to survive Minnesota and Rutgers when we shot horridly).
My personal take on the schedule:
I do not think there is a single more important week on the schedule than the one immediately upcoming and I don’t think this is due to some sort of myopic bias.
We have two home games against ranked teams in Indiana and Michigan State. Not only that, but of our 5 games against Top Tier BIG teams, I think these are the ones we have the best shot at. While you could argue MSU and/or IU is better than Purdue, Purdue is the worst matchup for Michigan style wise, a road game at Maryland is harder than either IU or MSU at home, and Iowa is the best team in the Big Ten.
Go 2-0 this week and we are in second place in the Big Ten and firmly in the title race. Go 1-1 and we hold serve and probably guarantee a tournament bid. Go 0-2 and we could start a complete collapse. There are only 2 games left that I feel very confident about (Minnesota and Northwestern) and if negative momentum starts to build who knows what could happen in the tossup games (at the moment I consider 7 of our remaining 9 games as relative tossups, with OSU being the most likely to win and Maryland the most likely to lose. I still deem Maryland as a relative tossup because, hey, we already beat them and I still deem Iowa as one because, hey, in Ann Arbor anything can happen and we fought them pretty hard the last time).
Anyone else have any schedule thoughts? Do you think we have a hard or easy schedule? Which games are you most concerned about? How do you feel about our tournament chances? Do we have a shot at the BIG Title?