Who said Thanksgiving is a football weekend? Not anymore. It's all about the hoops, babby.
Screw the Lions. Screw the Cowboys. Screw the NFL and them shoving crappy games down our throat on a weekly basis. This is no longer their weekend. Maybe there are folks out there who dont know better, but the true sporting wonks know that for the last several years, this weekend has morphed from a football one into a college hoops weekend. Frankly, there is way more intriguing action on the hardwood today than on the gridiron.
And your Michigan Wolverines will be in the thick of it. In fact, I wont even turn the LOLions game on. Especially since John Beilein's boys will be in action at same time playing their first legit foe of the season.
We all know the deal. Old Spice Classic. Orlando. Florida. State of. We all have high hopes that the Wolverine cagers will take the next step and be a Sweet 16 caliber team. Personally, I feel the, uh, ceiling can be much higher. However, hoops is a tricky game come March, and we've seen plenty of legit Final Four teams bow out before the first weekend of the tournament is even over. I am looking right at you, Wake Forest.
Translation: Let's not get too far ahead ourselves. March is a long way away. Let's buckle in and enjoy the ride. The team is good. They will be there at the end of the season. But, March Madness is not much different than the hockey tournament that MGoBrian complains is as finicky as a random number generator. The Michigan basketball program still needs to put consistent and achieving regular seasons together. Remember, this a program that has not won a Big 10 Title in 24 years and has not been in position to win one in 15 years. Beilein's task is not as much to turn Michigan into a Final Four team, but turn it into a Big 10 contender. If the latter gets accomplished, the former becomes easier just from a seeding standpoint alone.
If its not obvious from the ramblings of these opening graphs, I've been chugging rum in south Florida since Monday afternoon. So, before I get too wordy, let's just simply relish the start of the season and I'll briefly break down this field the only way I know how to: looking at odds, checking out preseason brackets and going by my world famous gut that has been tried and tested to work 51.9457 percent of the time.
Michigan enters this tournament as the betting favorite. Their odds to win are 3/1. Technically, they're the co-favorites. Possible second round foe Xavier shares the chalk role with 3/1 odds. I think both are solid bets. I have a hard time picturing a final without one of these teams coming out of this half of the bracket. And, you cant win a future bet without a team in the finals.
After those squads, you have Florida State and Alabama at 4/1 odds. Both are on the other side of the bracket than Michigan. The Crimson Tide is a sucker bet. I dont know how strong they are. I dont think they beat Baylor in the opener. Yes, that is an official lean as to who I like in that game (Bama is favored by a single point). I would have thought FSU would be a solid play, but man, they looked awful the other night against the Gators. They had nothing going on offense. So far, uber-recruit Marcus Snear does not look ready to pick up any of the scoring slack left in the wake of Toney Douglass' departure. Snear had just five points against Florida and right now good defensive teams--which includes all four teams FSU might see should they even get to the finals--ought to be able to render the Noles impotent.
So, if you want to play a future bet, lay a little out there on either Michigan or Xavier. One of them will be in the finals. And, at 3/1 odds, there is some wiggle room to hedge that bet once Sunday rolls around.
But, the betting odds are for fun. The serious business is what kind of ramifcations will three days in late November have come mid-March and Selection Sunday? Looking back one year ago, you can say a lot.
In this very tournament last year, Oklahoma State and Siena battled for last place. And, yet, thanks to the RPI boost from playing three games against tough foes, neither were ever too far off the at-large bid radar. You can make a case that the Cowboys didnt really do anything from a quality win standpoint all season, yet they never fell out of too many mock brackets during the winter. Their 7th place finish, 1-2 record and win over Siena in this tourney last year kept inflating their resume. They parlayed that into a first round win over Tennessee in a 8/9 game in the NCAAs. The Saints, meanwhile, went 0-3 in last season's OSC. While we'll never know if they would have merited an at large--they made the point moot by winning the MAAC finals--they still got a generous seed compared to previous MAAC standards and in a 8/9 game beat Ohio State. Siena beat Ohio State. There is something poetic about those four words, n'est pas? But, I digress.
Conventional wisdon says this year's field is not as strong as last year's. I would not feel too good about a 7th place finish. But, its still pretty strong at the top. A team like Creighton, who plays Michigan in today's opener, would all but write their own at large ticket with a couple of wins today and tomorrow. Barring a MVC collapse, they will be on the board come March if they can get to Sunday's final. It may be too early to make these considerations, but tomorrow's nooner between the Jays and the Wolverines could end up being on the more important out of conference games of the season.
Did I really say it was too early to consider the possible bracket? Because that is hogwash. Before signing off, lets take a quick tour of the smattering of mock brackets that have already been put out there as part of people's preseason coverage and how it relates to this field.
According to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, only two teams in this field are early projections into the NCAA field. Michigan,a #4, and Xavier, a #8. Marquette is one of his final four teams out and Florida State is among the second final four left out of the field. Creighton is nowhere to be found and the only MVC team in his field in Northern Iowa, a #12, but the Jays are widely tabbed as one of the MVC favorites.
CollegeHoops.net actually places three teams fron this field: Michigan, #4; Xavier, #7 and Creighton, #11. Are you suddenly sweating today's game, MIchigan fans? Florida State makes the grade as one of their final four teams cut from the field.
The Sporting News published a bracket look-ahead in their preseason rag on newstands. Michigan, #6, Florida State, #7 and Xavier, #8 make thier field. They did not list the teams who just missed the cut. They did pick Creighton to finish in second place in the MVC. So, they Jays come highly regarded by their writers. Interesting stat from their preview article on CU, btw: Only Creighton, Florida, Duke, Gonzaga, Syracuse and Kansas have at least 11 consecutive winning seasons. The Jays are going for their 13th straight season of 20 or more wins. Yo.
Bracketology 101 lists Michigan as a #4, Xavier as a #10, FSU a final four out and Creighton as one of their next four teams out of the field.
The Bracket Matrix is already in gear with plenty of other way too early mocks to absorb. While some may find bracket crunching in November silly, I feel these mocks are way more tellin and engaging to look through than the polls. Those are, by and large, irrelevant in the college hoops world.
Obvioulsy, these snapshots are so early, they're not worth anything. But, you can see just how important tomorrow's game might be for Creighton. A win over Michigan and a good overall showing this week would put them on a lot of people's bracket lines and it would take a lot to budge them off. This game, in some ways, is a lot like that Boise/Oregon football game to start the season. It's much more important to the mid major. And, that makes tomorrow's noon tip way more exciting than anything the NFL is giving us during the day.
A year ago, Michigan was in the dumps with one of the longest tournament droughts within the BCS conference ranks. They were coming off an awful season. There was not much on the roster screaming big improvement.
Now, the Wolverines are ranked in the preseason polls, the betting favorite to win a Feast Week Tournament and considered a #4 seed via the consensus of preseason bracketologists. I am thankful for John Beilein.
Here's hoping the Wolverines can live up to the hype and not fall under the weight of the program's first bigtime expectations in over a decade.
(Diarist Note: I dont know how many of these hoop diaries I will do this season. This site was lacking last winter on hoops coverage, mostly because of Brian's sojourn abroad, but I never got the impression he was all that into it. Tim has set a pretty high bar so far for MGo hoops coverage. I dont want to be repititive. If anyone has ideas or hoop news they would like to see to supplement their coverage, feel free to drop me an idea.)
"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man, and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity", James Madison, Federalist #10.
When Madison wrote about the dangers of faction, he was concerned that competing interests would destroy the nascent American government. If we turn to Michigan football and its current coach, one might think that there are only two factions: the pro-Rodriguez and the anti-Rodriguez. But these are not monolithic factions. Members of the anti-Rodriguez group have all sorts of motivations: some overlapping, some singular. Some are personal, directed at Rodriguez. Some have nothing to do with Rodriguez himself and everything to do with his job.
It’s important to know who you’re dealing with. So when you encounter a card-carrying anti-Rodriguez person in the wild, please refer to the guide below. Your combatant may have one, some, or many of these motivations. Disarming them is nearly impossible; it’s best to walk away.
The Just Win, Baby
This is the most legitimate type of Rodriguez basher. They point to his 8-16 record, his 3-13 Big 10 record, the end of the bowl streak, the end of the winning season streak, etc. They just want the team to keep winning like it always has and can’t understand why it’s losing now. For this group, any losing record is unforgiveable, and two in a row is a death sentence. Almost every Michigan fan is a member of this group to some degree; the difference is between those who see progress out of a deep hole vs. those who think a good thing was driven into the ditch.
The Devout Nostalgic
Somewhat similar to The Just Win, Baby but less pragmatic and more unrealistic in expectations. Believes Michigan has a divine right to have a winning program, and anyone to divert Michigan from that divine right must be Satan himself.
Maybe more realistic than the Devout Nostalgic, yet still upset about any change to the football program. This includes the spread offense, piped in music, the handling of the #1 jersey, the lack of season-starting permanent team captains, etc. For this type, Rodriguez is not a ‘Michigan Man’ and never will be.
This group has problems with Rodriguez because he can seem like a glib gladhander. They are put off by the way he left his alma mater, the lawsuit (whether it was encouraged by U-M or not), the golly-gee press conferences, the failed real estate deal, the GPA claim, the Lion King quotes, etc. They don’t fully trust Rodriguez and likely never will. They also know that this feeling is somewhat irrational. [Full disclosure: I'm an occasional member of this group]
The Football Hater
This person hates football. They hate big-time sports. They may have tolerated Lloyd Carr because of his emphasis on character and academics and charitable work, but now that Carr’s gone this group is out in full force.
Rodriguez swears. Therefore, he’s a bad coach. Anything that any member of the program does is wrong and further proof of Rodriguez’s evil core - regardless of similar things happening under previous Michigan football coaches or at other programs. For this person, a minor NCAA violation would be the equivalent of a double homicide.
The Media Elite
Perhaps after years of getting dressed down by Lloyd Carr, the media elite is exacting his revenge on the Michigan program. While Carr intimidated the press, Rodriguez does not. And rather than repay his humanity, they take advantage of it.
'I Wanted a Different Coach'
These are legion. For whatever reason, they wanted another coach (Miles, Ferentz, Kelly, Harbaugh, English, Hoke), and since Rodriguez is not that coach, they want him out.
The Vengeful West Virginia Hillbilly
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE! West Virginia is a beautiful state and West Virginians can be beautiful people. BUT THEY DO NOT GIVE A SHIT. They have elected a crotchety former KKK member to the Senate for 50 years. West Virginia is also the state that gave us the Hatfields and McCoys; long-running feuds are nothing new to these folks. They feel betrayed by native son Rodriguez, and they want nothing less than the nuclear annihilation of Rodriguez and anything associated with him – including the Michigan football program. They would think nothing of sowing discontent wherever possible. So, every word you read, every voice you hear, everything you see, you must ask yourself - is a pissed off West Virginian behind it all? Maybe yes, maybe no.
I hope this helps. Remember, Madison said that the causes of faction cannot be controlled, only the effects. So do your best, and please feel free to add to the taxonomy in the comments.
Recapping last week, nothing particularly egregious happened in the MAC. Toledo pounded Eastern 47-21, Bowling Green beat Akron 36-20 to become bowl-eligible (I guess), and Buffalo beat Miami(NTM) 42-17 early in an anagram-score of the Toledo / Eastern game. Coincidence? Almost certainly.
Elsewhere, Purdue dutifully beat Indiana 38-21, New Mexico squeaked out there first win against CSU 29-27 on a last minute field goal, Rice came back from a 29-17 deficit to win 30-29, and Irresistible Force (North Texas) lost to Immovable Object (Army) 17-13. So, rock beats scissors.
This week continues the rivalries that may get ugly. Washington v Washington State has to be considered. 4 wins, including 2 conference wins, between them. We're also treated to a double-feature of the "Too Bad This Isn't Basketball" bowl, #5 Cincinnati plays Illinois and Syracuse (plays UConn, featuring the "Former Michigan Coaches/Future Michigan Opponents" trophy.
There are the usual suspects around in the MAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, etc., but I think the real "winner" this week is the perennial favorite: Lions versus whoever, in this case Green Bay. Nothing like being a 9 point home dog. I guess that's what happens when your starting QB is questionable, and #1 receiver has bad hands and knees. Those are important parts. Remember while watching, those are highly-paid, professional athletes out there.
All numbers are points per game vs an average team. They are adjusted for strength of opponent. No 1AA games or stats are included. For more detailed questions on how the numbers come about, click here.
Expected PointsMichigan got exactly what it wanted here. The pace was theirs. For the game, Michigan had a season high 15 drives and a season high 29 expected points. Contrast that to Ohio State who had 13 drives (made possible by the defensive TD) and only 21 expected points. That is a huge gap in expected points for Michigan. Ohio State's defense definitely deserves a lot of credit, but Michigan had the opportunities to get some points, even if 28+ was a bit unrealistic.
Rush OffensePredicted: +0, 35 carries, 130 yards 1TD
Actual: -5, 29 carries, 94 yards 0 TD
For the second straight game, the Michigan running couldn't find it's footing against an elite rush defense.
For the second straight game, Vincent Smith continues to stake a solid claim to next year's starting spot. Smith posted his second straight +4 (adjusted for competition and includes receptions) and was Michigan's most productive back both on the ground and through the air.
Pass OffensePredicted: -6, 18/30 175 yards 2 TD 1 INT
Actual: -12, 24/43 224 yards 1 TD 4 INT
Michigan has only lost 21 points to interceptions thrown this year, which is best in the Big 10. And interceptions are where OSU has made their living this year, racking up a +54 on picks for the season. If Michigan can keep away from bad interceptions, and a pick up a lucky bounce or two, could be a ball game.About that...
Not quite HOLD ONTO THE BALL level jinxing going on there, but still, pretty disheartening to go back and reread it. The amazing thing is that the bounces generally went OSU's way and it was still a ball game. Good sign.
If you remove the INTs (wait, you can't do that?) the passing offense comes in at +0, not spectacular but still very good against this OSU pass defense.
The best news of Saturday might have been the continued emergence of Roy Roundtree as the much needed go to receiver for Michigan. Roundtree posted his fourth straight outstanding game with a +10. In the four games that Roundtree has seen the time and the balls come his way (Ill, Purdue, Wisconsin, OSU) he has averaged +7.7, which if held (understandably big if) would be the top mark in the Big 10 this year and 7th nationally.
Rush DefenseProjected: -3, 45 carries 210 yards 3 TD
Actual: +0, 48 carries 264 yards 1 TD
The yards ended up higher than projected, but in terms of the value, Michigan got a number of big stops against the Buckeye ground game to warrant a very solid break even performance.
Pass DefenseProjected: -1, 15/24 160 yards 1 TD 0 INT
Actual: -8, 11/19 54 yards 1 TD 1 INT
When the Buckeyes have thrown the ball less than 20 times, they average +2.2 and have had their two best passing games of the year. When they have thrown the ball more than 20 times, they have averaged -1.1 and had their 3 worst games of the year. You have to think that the gameplan is going to be to keep the ball on the ground.Ohio State got the low volume passing game that they wanted, although it didn't quite go as expected. Michigan's pass defense took the conservative Buckeye game plan and did quite well against it. Even without the pick (+3), the pass defense did quite well, picking up nearly 3 points of value on a pair of sacks. Even removing the sacks and the pack, the defense still posted an above average performance, an outstanding day for a much maligned group.
The Rest of the PictureSpecial teams ended in a near wash. The missed chippy was a definite negative for Michigan, but it was offset by great play from both the punt and kickoff teams.
On the turnover front, the net of Forcier's 5 turnovers and Pryor's single miscue netted a 13 point swing for Ohio State. A neutral result on turnovers could have very well been enough for the Wolverines on Saturday that I thought they needed to 2 swing play advantage to have a shot.
PredictionsMichigan 21 - OSU 31
Almost nailed the spread, just a few less points scored than I thought.
Same story for Minnesota Iowa where my 27-14 pick was within a point of the spread but high on the total.
I nailed Wisconsin but underestimate Northwestern as my 31-17 pick missed the mark.
Also missed out on Purdue/Indiana. I had it a tight one at 28-27 and missed on an easy Purdue victory.
Another one that was not as close I expected was Penn State/MSU as PSU brought the posse and beat up on the Spartans. Still had the Nittany Lions covering, but didn't see a 4 TD win in my 28-24 pick.
Lost out on the Irish as well this week, picking them to cover against UConn, 35-28.
Overall - 3-3 ATS.
After my tarot, my girlfriend suggested we do a 5 card spread for Rich Rod and the Michigan football team's future. The question I asked it was if Rich Rod will turn the program around and win a national championship here at Michigan.
Photo is below, with breakdown of the spread. (edit, I can't figure out how to upload from my computer so I will just describe the cards)
Nine of Wands: You have prepared yourself for your eventual victory. All the hard work you have put in will pay off. You have to just overcome the final obstacle. You will enjoy good health. Your strength and stamina will be at its peak.
Five of Wands: This is time to test your courage. There may be some legal battles to be fought. There may be a lot of conflicts and a period of struggle. You may get frustrated with the minor problems but this can be overcome with some patience and conviction. You may also face stiff competition from your rivals.
Ace of Cups: This signifies beginning of a new life, journey or love. You feel spiritually fulfilled. The intuitive and creative mind is active and such projects will succeed. The unconscious mind may become more active.
Six of Swords: You may go on a long journey, mostly probably by sea. This may be the calmer period after turbulent times. This is an important time in your life. Situation will improve. You will find the solutions to your problems.
Ten of Cups: This is the time for happiness. Relationships will be fruitful. There will be domestic bliss. You will be emotionally balanced. Success and rewards will be seen soon. A harmonious and secure environment will be experienced.
So according to the tarot things are going to be looking up!
p.s. my girlfriend is a grey witch so if you need any crystals blessed or curses cast let me know.
Kendall Rogers (KR) is probably the top journalist (depending on how you classify Sorenson) when it comes to the national college baseball circuit. Rogers works primarily for Yahoo! Sports now, and runs the "Destination: Omaha" blog, similar to "Doctor Saturday" in the college football world.
In KR's most recent post, he examined the keys to Michigan bouncing back. In the opening paragraphs, or in many cases, stand alone sentences with little or no meaning (a personal pet peeve of mine in sports writing), he discusses Michigan's past few years with a pretty solid overview, discussing our success in 2007, our fall short in 2008, and the drop off in 2009.
In this post, I'm going to delve a bit deeper into his five keys, and attempt to cover the keys I find a bit more important. KR does a good job of summarizing programs, but he really doesn't have the expertise or in depth knowledge to really comment, and I'm hoping I can help supplement his descriptions.
His first key:
Forget about last season -- It seems we've had to say this about many teams the past few weeks, but Michigan joins the list of teams that needs to move on and forget about what transpired last season. The Wolverines welcome back a plethora of seasoned players both at the plate and on the mound. To say the least, this team will be ready to play in the spring. Personally, I think it'll be interesting to see how motivated this team will be. Knowing coach Rich Maloney as well I do, this club likely will be very fun to watch. Don't look for a letdown from the Wolverines.
That's about as vanilla as you can get. Yes, last year was unimpressive, I get that. But forgetting about it isn't really the answer. If anything, I think KR hit a bigger nerve with me when he mentioned the motivation of the team. Michigan was one of the most talented teams in the Big10 last year, but they continually struggled against some of the lower tier teams. I sometimes wondered just how motivated the guys were, but that's something I don't know about either.
There were stretches during the season in 2009 where I wondered if the guys just got down and couldn't pick it back up. Be it injuries, no one really solidifying third base, a depleted bullpen, whatever it was, I kept waiting for us to get a spark last year. That spark never came, and I felt like perhaps that was an indication that the team wasn't motivated enough. That was just my feeling, and I welcome the opinion of those who saw more games in person. I just know something was missing there.
Moving to key two:
Replace ace pitcher Chris Fetter, weekend rotation must reload -- The Wolverines have the tough chore of replacing ace pitcher Chris Fetter in the spring. Fetter started 13 games last season and compiled a 3.26 ERA in 94 innings. He also struck out 103 and walked 17 and limited opposing teams to a .257 batting average. Michigan welcomes back a pair of starting pitchers in Eric Katzman and Travis Smith. Katzman started 14 games last season and had a 3.53 ERA in 74 innings. He also struck out 64 and walked 41 and limited teams to a .248 batting average. Smith, meanwhile, started eight games and tallied a 4.50 ERA in 50 innings. Teams hit .333. The Wolverines are in good shape if this unit rises to the occasion.
That's also another obvious one, and one I'm not sure the Wolverines are going to be able to answer. To say last year's weekend rotation was disappointing would be an understatement.
Eric Katzman was a marginal number two starter compared to the last few seasons at Michigan. He was almost so inconsistent that his inconsistency became consistent. It seemed, as the season went along, that dubious "Evil Katzman" showed up every third week. Those "Evil Katzman" moments generally lead to a 3.2 inning start with 3 walks and 4+ runs. In the two weeks of non-evil, Katzman tended to make it about 5-6 innings and only 2-3 runs. That's alright, but his overall season really taxed our bullpen. By season's end, he would be demoted to the third starter. Katzman's summer was cut short due to an injury, I believe to his collar bone. He hadn't been pitching well in his few appearances there either. It'll be interesting if he can keep a solid hold on his rotation spot this season, and I think he'll still be a pretty solid number 2 or 3 pitcher for us.
Travis Smith was promising to start the season, but he just couldn't hack it by the time Big10 play rolled around. He was replaced by a few different experiments, including Kolby Wood, Brandon Sinnery, and most notably Alan Oaks. Wood and Sinnery were promoted up from the mid-week starter role on occasion to pitch on Sundays, primarily in an effort to split the Sunday game between two pitchers (one would throw 5 innings, the other 4 innings). This didn't work out all to well either, leaving the weak part of our bullpen to try and soak up more innings on back-to-back days.
When this failed, Maloney tried Alan Oaks back on the mound. Oaks had some success previously on the mound, mostly in high school, but also in relief during the 2007 NCAA run. Oaks ended up being the most effective pitcher (other than Fetter) to close the season, generally lasting 6 to 7 innings, saving the bullpen. He also did really well this summer, and he's one who I think has the best shot of taking Fetter's ace role. He's got a hard fastball and a pretty good slider.
After Oaks and Katzman, it's anybody's race for the 3rd starting spot. I think my preliminary guesses are Sinnery or Smith. Smith struggled mightily this summer in the Texas Collegiate League, but his fastball is just hard to pass up. Sinnery is still young, and I just haven't seen him throw enough as a starter to give him a nod just yet.
One of the hunches I've had for a while is we see a return of Tyler Burgoon to the rotation. Burgoon, our top closer over the last year and a half, started his career in the Michigan mid-week starting role half way through the 2008 season. He had some success there before being converted to a setup man and then closer. Burgoon has a couple good pitches, including a fastball, slider, changeup, and split fingered fastball (Quag, anything I'm missing?).
As for Kolby Wood, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make the transition to the closer role. He's developed a palm/changeup like pitch that has been devastating batters over the summer. He's still in contention for a starter role, but he was so spectacular as a closer this summer, I really feel like that's where he needs to go, especially if it frees up Burgoon to eat up starting pitching innings.
Speaking of bullpen, key three:
Bullpen must show some improvement -- The Wolverines actually return some solid relievers in the spring, but still have some work to do. They finished last season with a 4.82 pitching staff ERA because of some inconsistency issues with several relievers. Mike Dufek and Matt Miller are returning relievers to remember. Dufek is a two-way player and appeared in just 11 games last season. However, perhaps the Wolverines will choose to increase his role after he compiled a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Miller, meanwhile, appeared in 23 games and had a 3.70 ERA in 41 1/3 innings. Other returning relievers to watch include Tyler Burgoon, Brandon Sinnery, Alan Oaks, Kolby Wood and Matt Gerbe. This unit must be better outside of Dufek and Miller.
The bullpen is one area I'm not particularly worried about this year. Along with the aforementioned Burgoon and Wood as potential closers, Matt Gerbe and Matt Miller both made considerable noise this summer as closers. This summer was the summer of Michigan closers, even Sinnery got involved in the save fad. All of them did extremely well, and that really has me feeling good going into next season. And even with all of those players, we still have Mike Dufek available to close. That's a pretty stacked set of closers.
The one area that I'm not sold on is our left handed pitching. Other than Katzman as a starter, none of our other lefties have really produced at the college level. Matt Broder started for his lower-level summer league team and performed quite well, making me wonder if he will take the long relief slot. Bobby Brosnahan did pretty well this summer himself, and he may become a left handed specialist (in college, they tend to pitch a whole inning rather than just one batter).
Our only left handed reliever with college experience is Jeff DeCarlo. He's still working on bringing his college ERA below 8.00. The stat I like to use to describe DeCarlo is his hit by pitch numbers. Last season he hit one for each inning he pitched. He had 5 hit batsmen and 6 walks in 5 innings pitched. But he was an Academic All BigTen player in 2008!
Moving on to key #4:
Several hitters must rise to the occasion -- The Wolverines have the luxury of utilizing returning hitters Ryan LaMarre, Anthony Toth and Mike Dufek. However, they don't welcome back a plethora of solid hitters. LaMarre batted .344 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs last season, Toth batted .313 with 24 RBIs and Dufek batted .304 with 17 homers and 59 RBIs. Other returning hitters include Chris Berset (.296), Coley Crank (.294), Nick Urban (.288), John Lorenz (.267) and Alan Oaks (.228). Perhaps newcomer Derek Dennis, a very talented freshman, can give the Wolverines a boost at the plate. Michigan finished last season with a .294 batting average.
Again with the blatantly obvious statements – batters rising to the occasion? Duh. Anyway, I think Chris Berset is going to be a big key in all of this. Berset missed a few weeks with a broken finger during the middle of the season, and that really limited his numbers. I don't think he's a .330 batter by any stretch, but I think something near .305 is definitely doable (like his .301 his freshman year).
Other players that could end up contributing at the plate include Garrett Stephens, one of the top hitters in the Prospect League this last summer. I'm really high on the kid's hitting, and I can't see how he doesn't either start at first or start as the DH. Coley Crank had been DH'ing, but he was doing just alright. Stephens really shined at the end of the season at first, and I think he's got a future there.
Out of all of the returning hitters, the one I'm most worried about is Lorenz at third base. He struggled all of last season, forcing a platoon with Tim Kalczynski. His hitting was really weak, and his defense was just as suspect. If he doesn't step up his game this season, we're going to be playing musical chairs at third base until someone can hold it down. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Kittle or even Kevin Krantz making appearances early in the season at the hot corner.
As far as the freshman go, I'm not sure what to expect out of any of them. Dennis obviously was drafted really high, but it's yet to be seen how he'll perform in his first year on campus. It'd be nice to see him and maybe even Biondi solidify their place in the lineup, as we really need a leadoff and #2 hitter to step up. I have a feeling those two and Anthony Toth will combine to make the #9, #1, and #2 spots in the lineup. Their speed and high average hitting will hopefully translate to plenty of RBI opportunities for LaMarre and Dufek.
Speaking of those two, KR's fifth key:
Find more power production -- One thing that hurt Michigan last season was its lack of power. The Wolverines finished last season with just 55 homers. Returning hitters Ryan LaMarre and Mike Dufek accounted for 29 of those 55 homers. In other words, some returning hitters or newcomers must step up from a power standpoint. More power would make life much easier for the Wolverines both at the plate and on the mound. We'll see if some newcomers have some pop.
I'm not as concerned about the power as I am that combination at the top of the lineup. Last year's team was definitely a power based team, and that didn't translate to wins. Michigan had trouble sustaining innings, and they particularly struggled with strikeouts. Dufek struck out once in every 4 at-bats, Toth once in every 5. That's just not going to cut it. Sure the homeruns look awesome, but we really need to work on consistency and raising the averages. Power hitting is plenty more powerful with runners on base, and that's not a luxury Michigan had last season.