this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
2/26/2011 – Michigan 70, Minnesota 63 – 18-12, 8-9 Big Ten
Outside of Michigan, if you've heard about Zack Novak it's probably because Blake Griffin posterized him. That's what got him in Sports Illustrated, after all. The article starts off by describing Michigan's strategy—let him shoot—before noting that "the coaches do not cover what to do if he decides to jump over your head." Luke Winn reports that after it happened a Memphis fan yelled "Hey, Novak! Your kid is going to have a picture of that on his wall!" Zack Novak: not Blake Griffin.
Saturday Novak got posterized again, this time by a guy who can do this:
Substitute Novak for the motorcycle and that's basically what happened. It was lethal. I'm shocked it's not on Youtube six different ways. Bacari Alexander heard so much about it he admonished the twitter in the aftermath.
It takes a special kind of player on a special kind of team to be famous for being a vague impediment to someone going ham on the rim. It takes a floppy-haired short kid on an overmatched team, specifically. Every time an actual power forward gets on a media guide cover thanks to Novak it's a reminder that Michigan is a short, young, small, and possibly talent-deficient team just trying to make do until it can get some seniors up in here.
But as Alexander pointed out: scoreboard. At the end of the game it read Michigan LOTS, Minnesota NOT QUITE AS MANY despite the fact that Novak's going to be incidentally part of ten year old Minnesotans' walls next year. There were a lot of reasons for this—Tim Hardaway going NBA Jam in the first five minutes, Darius Morris braving the trees to toss in a variety of circus shots—but just about everything that was going to happen already had and Michigan was still down one on the road with three seconds on the shot clock and ninety on the game clock.
Morris tried to drive and was cut off. He had to chuck it out to Novak; Novak was camped out at the NBA three-point line. If he was closer one of Minnesota's enormous tree people would have deflected the pass. As it was the enormous tree person got a hand in his face as he fired an instant before the shot clock hit zero.
Against Iowa and Wisconsin, Novak literally hadn't hit a shot.
Minnesota came down the floor down two. Novak, who is maybe 6'4", ended up checking Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III (yes that Ralph Sampson). Sampson is 7'1" with long, long arms. He could eat Zack Novak in a single sitting. He'd already hit a variety of mid-range jumpers that Michigan could do nothing about other than watch, and was one-on-one in the block. This is shrug-your-shoulders time. This is the point where you acknowledge the physical limitations brought on by Benzing's test score and Cronin's hip and say "just wait till next year, Big Ten!" as you shake your little tiny baby fist.
Sampson is fighting for position hard enough for the announcer to note it. Minnesota feeds the post. This is shrug-your-shoulders-time.
People say players like Zack Novak do the little things, and they are wrong. I yelped "yes" involuntarily. This hadn't happened for anything else; anything that forces strained noises out of you is probably not a "little thing."
Maybe they say this because it's not the kind of thing that gets you on a poster. That's true, but in the alternate universe where Nick Hornby is on the 50 Sexiest People cover for the 20th straight year and Sufjan Stevens is Lady Gaga, there are posters of Novak leaping in front of Sampson, posters of the Aneurysm of Leadership, posters of Zack Novak bleeding on you and MANBOUNDING you and fronting your six-eight jumping-jack power forward. In them, Novak has an elbow in his back, blood running down his temple, and is plotting how to take a charge.
Tim has you covered. Go North Carolina Central!
The best in annoyance. Eamonn Brennan on Michigan's chances:
Huge road win for Michigan, and an even bigger loss for Minnesota. The Wolverines have been quietly (OK, not quietly, because Michigan fans e-mail me more than any non-BYU fan base in the nation) making a late-season push for at-large consideration, and this win will only boost that case. In fact, the Wolverines are probably, if only barely, in the tournament right now. A home win over Michigan State in the regular-season finale might very well seal it.
Say what you will about Michigan fan but boy do they lacerate people on the internet with questions/responses. Hinton agrees.
The zen of good shots. I missed the first Michigan-Minnesota game because of hockey but recall from the stats that Michigan took an epic number of threes and missed damn near all of them; in the first half they took an epic number of threes (22 to just six twos) and this was frickin' awesome until they got to 35 points, at which point it was frickin' awful. What changed? It didn't look like anything. Minnesota has enormous dudes inside and was giving up wide open three after wide open three, so it made sense to take them. Was that bad? Is an open three a bad shot after you've taken five straight? What if you've missed five straight?
I'm really asking here. I can't recall more than a couple first-half threes that seemed like bad shots in isolation. An open three from a 35% shooter is something you can win a lot of games with, but as they clanged off the rim late in the first half I tried to figure out if my frustration was me being a troglodyte or not. The end result was good—9 of 22, 41%, equivalent to hitting 61% of your twos—so… can you complain?
After all, Michigan put up an excellent 1.19 points per possession. In the second half they were far more interior-oriented and scored… 35 points. There's an argument to be made that any three is less good than a layup/dunk and that a team that can get lots of those is going to be better than a team that just bombs from deep. Also an offense like that is less prone to withering droughts.
So if Michigan was really good it would be a problem, and if they're going to be really good they'll have to cut down on the threes, but they're not so fine, especially against the Brobdingnagian Gophers. I think this is what I think.
Statewatch. The popular sentiment appears to be "beat MSU and don't fall on your face and you're in"—even an previously dismissive Lunardi now has Michigan amongst his last four in. That's quite a shift from before the Minnesota game. So goings-on with the Spartans are important. They just got obliterated by Purdue 67-47:
The offensive execution before the shot wasn't great. The ball screens and movement were enough to create open shots, and on the few occasions MSU did get offensive rebounds (OReb% of 26.3% - low, but not enough to explain a 20 point loss) they could not convert. Seven points off 10 offensive rebounds isn't good. Lastly, it seemed as if the Spartans were a bit tentative in the paint. Dan Dakich made a point a couple times during the telecast that Green and Roe were falling forward on lay-ups, and I think a drive directly at the basket would've at least drawn a foul.
While they should take care of Iowa at home they made the Hawkeyes look like Purdue the last time out. Either way MSU is going to be playing for its tourney life in Crisler on Saturday. It will be the most important, competitive game between the teams in years.
BONUS: The elf who bakes cookies is MSU's third-leading scorer in the last couple games.
Tim Hardaway: five star? Big Ten Geeks asked people to name "ten freshmen better than Tim Hardaway Jr" apropos of nothing on the twitter and then followed that up a comparison between THJ and some of his more hyped peers:
Here’s how he stacks up in terms of offensive rating and possessions consumed in conference play with some other more recognizable freshmen:
Player Offensive Rating Poss% Tim Hardaway Jr. 112.1 24.4 Jared Sullinger 118.2 26.4 Harrison Barnes 103.4 26.3 Terrence Jones 107.4 29.2 Brandon Knight 112.1 24.8 Perry Jones 114.7 22.2 Tobias Harris 103.1 26 Josh Smith 108.8 25.7
It’s not like Hardaway is a tweener, either. At 6-5, he’s got the size to play guard at the next level. We should probably see Hardaway on more mock draft boards, very soon.
Not as good as Jared Sullinger. Everyone else is at least debatable and he's got a clear edge on many. (Caveats about defense apply.)
John Beilein's eagle eye. Hardaway's emergence and Jordan Morgan turning into a way better player than classmate Derrick Nix have provided enough evidence for me to suggest that Beilein's seems to have an eye for players who are overlooked by recruiting sites. I didn't follow the Pittsnogle era at WVU closely enough to have a grasp on the players he was recruiting and didn't get, but various Michigan targets who have outperformed expectations:
- Beilein was hard after Klay Thompson as he tried to fill out his first recruiting class but Thompson decided to go to Washington State(!?!), whereupon he exploded. He's shooting 42% from 3 and has a 106.4 ORtg despite using a third of WSU's possessions.
- That same year he pursued Kyle Kuric heavily but didn't get him. Kuric went somewhere less embarrassing: Louisville. He's currently sporting a 129.8(!) ORtg because he's hitting 46% from three and 60% from two. He has low usage and only plays 57% of available minutes, but dang.
- Beilein went after Vermont transfer Joe Trapani but lost him to BC. As a senior he's got a 104 ORtg while shooting 29% of the time. He shoots 36% from 3.
- Robin Benzing fell one SAT question short of making this edition of Michigan insane. He was the leading scorer in a U20 Euro championship, got time on the actual German national team, and is a guy who keeps popping up on NBA draft radars.
- Hardaway was a meh three star when he committed.
- Smotrycz was a meh three star when he committed before shooting up with a strong AAU season; he's struggled a bit so far but has potential and was no one when he committed to M.
- Novak had his Valpo offer pulled.
- Morgan had no other D-I offers and even his father was surprised he got one from Michigan.
Add in Pittsnogle and Joe Alexander and Gansey, etc., and I think you've got a strong case to trust the coaches when Beilein brings in someone you've never heard of who doesn't have any offers. Not everyone can pan out explosively but Beilein seems to be more hit than miss.
Dang. Random BTN tweet:
Jordan Morgan has averaged 15.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg over his last five games. He's shooting 71.4 pct during this span.
Recap from UMHoops. Also AnnArbor.com. Big Ten tourney scenarios from AC1997. Zach Travis of MNB on the other Zack. Big House Blog on Novak. Maize n Blue Nation on Novak. Mets Maize on… Novak. Little things… not so much.
In Soviet Russia, Novak discusses topic of dunk:
“I didn’t even really see it. I was turned around a little bit,” Novak said. “So I was under the basket and I saw him dunk it. I didn’t know it was that bad.
“But (my teammates) told me it was pretty bad. He’s just, he’s a great player.”
Rothstein also recaps Michigan's league situation.
And finally, here's this:
|WHAT||Michigan v. Minnesota|
4:30 PM EST (3:30 Local)
February 26th, 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan +5.5.|
This is The Most Important Game of the Year
Until the Next Game. They're all equally important now. Unable to get the wins in excruciatingly close games against Illinois and Wisconsin, the Wolverines must sweep their final two regular-season games for a realistic shot at an at-large bid. A loss in either of the final two regular season games likely means no NCAA Tournament, barring an epic run through the Big Ten Tournament.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, the two games are winnable - though that doesn't mean they're sure things. The Wolverines have already beaten Michigan State in the Breslin Center, and the Gophers are very vulnerable right now. How vulnerable? Since Al Nolen went out of the Gophers' lineup (in the first game against Michigan), they're without a true point guard, and only have wins against Northwestern and at Iowa.
Minnesota has gone to a 4-big lineup, though it hasn't been all that successful, seeing losses to Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois on the obvious end of the spectrum, but also road losses to Indiana and Penn State, and allowing Michigan State to control the final 5 minutes of the game in The Barn for a comeback Spartan win.
With a few games under each team's belt, it's finally reasonable to look at the stats. If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Minnesota: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Minnesota Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Minn Def eFG%||57||73||M|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Minn eFG%||167||108||G|
|Mich TO% v. Minn Def TO%||22||282||MMM|
|Mich Def TO% v. Minn TO%||244||217||G|
|Mich OReb% v. Minn DReb%||321||138||GG|
|Mich DReb% v. Minn OReb%||49||13||G|
|Mich FTR v. Minn Opp FTR||340||28||GGGG|
|Mich Opp FTR v. Minn FTR||40||31||-|
|Mich AdjO v. Minn AdjD||64||53||G|
|Mich AdjD v. Minn AdjO||54||48||-|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Minnesota's numbers are mostly OK, but keep in mind that these include the entire time that Al Nolen was in the lineup - they're trending downward since he broke his foot. That's most evident in Turnover Rate, where the Gophers are bad an getting worse offensively. The Wolverines haven't been a machine forcing opponents into mistakes, but they have a chance to make a big dent there.
On the other end of the spectrum, playing with 4 bigs has been a huge benefit in the rebounding game. The Wolverines were killed on the defensive glass in the first half against Wisconsin, and Minnesota is an even better rebounding team. Michigan will have to pound the glass and eliminate second-chance opportunities for the Gopher bigs.
Michigan is also going to have trouble getting to the line (no surprise there) against a tall Minnesota lineup. Forcing Minnesota to extend their defense all the way out the arc is going to be important, both for getting offense on the perimeter and opening lanes for cutting. I think - even though it will be a defensive liability - Michigan might go with more Smotrycz at the 5, in order to have serious shooting threats at all positions.
Dylan previews on UMHoops.
The Wisconsin loss was a gut-punch of epic proportions, but this Wolverine team is as hungry as can be after that. Minnesota is reeling, and if Michigan wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they need to prove it by taking advantage of the Gophers' poor form of late. It's going to be a shooting type of night with Minnesota short on guards, and I think Michigan shoots more than 25 3-pointers, making about 40%. Darius Morris gets a points-assists double-double, and Michigan gets the 69-62 victory in The Barn.
Yes, pretty much. Not to dwell on a small monkey on a Caribbean island throwing a banana that turns into a tsunami because of chaos theory and wham(!) there's a coconut in Crisler, but people are saying that Tim Hardaway's facial expression after you know, that, was priceless and perfect and they're right:
Yes, yes, free throws, yes free throws. The most shocking stat from the game to me: Michigan rebounded 76% of Wisconsin's misses, which is actually better than their very good season average of 71% (50th nationally). It seemed like Wisconsin had one possession that lasted four minutes.
Dolla dolla bill yo. Michigan is officially one of those teams that has a head coach and then a guy making almost as much as the head coach:
Michigan, according to contract obtained today, will pay Greg Mattison $750K/year with chance to make $900K if the team wins Big Ten title
That's probably triple what any Michigan assistant has ever made and makes me wonder who Michigan could have acquired a couple years back instead of Greg Robinson. A: Damn near anyone. /kicks self in face
Compher fill-in. JT Compher is one of two recent 2013 verbals for the hockey team, but unless you're Jack Johnson it's hard to get a read on how big of a get any particular 15-year-old is. But he might be kind of a big deal if his local paper is to be believed:
"He reminds me of (Vancouver Canucks MVP candidate [ed: ??? - he's 20 points behind two teammates]) Ryan Kesler , who played in the program," said Ryan Resmierski, director of player personnel for the National Team and in charge of all the youngsters in the program.
"He's a good hockey player right now, but we think with our program in Ann Arbor, we can make him an exceptional hockey player. He has a huge upside. First of all, he's an outstanding competitor. He competes every game we've seen him."
[HT: Michigan Hockey Net.]
Compher is currently the only kid on next year's NTDP U17s, getting offered a spot four months before the annual tryout camp held in March. He held early offer-type-substances from Notre Dame, Miami, and BU; there was also some chatter about the guy getting selected in the first round of the OHL draft.
BONUS: His sister is a "talented volleyball player and dancer."
Meanwhile, Michigan's other early commit from the MWEHL, Tyler Motte, has gotten the "Seat Over There" treatment from Yost Built. Motte's averaging over a point per game for Honeybaked and Tim (Not That Tim) dug up this tantalizing quote:
"He's playing like an 18- or 19-year-old, and for a '95 to do that is pretty amazing ... If he plays with Honeybaked, they're going to have the best player in the nation."
That's just one guy's enthusiasm so we don't have quite as much to go on as we do with Compher but it sounds like both are high-end gets.
Usual caveat: even guys with Johnson's hype level come up short when we're projecting so far down the line. Both Luke Moffatt and Tristin Llewellyn were hyped as first round picks when they committed and fell well short of that. (Moffatt went in the seventh round; Llewellyn didn't get drafted at all.)
The new "hard edge". Motivational whatnot ho:
The little text below says "State of Ohio High School Coaches Clinic," if you're wondering why you've never heard that before. So we've come to this, have we? Countdown clocks and quotes on the wall for Michigan State? A team that scrapes over seven wins twice a decade? /kicks self in face*
*[Not a Hoke criticism. Hoke uber alles.]
And then he stage-dove at a Whitney Houston concert. I've met Mike Spath and he's a nice guy but what in the holy hell is this?
Three years earlier, Rich Rodriguez donned a Maize and Blue hockey jersey and took a stab at Score-O – …. The student section roared with delight. That was Rodriguez's way and that didn't make it wrong but his occupation of the spotlight did offend some folks.
Flash-forward (or rewind) to Friday night. Hoke stepped onto the ice from the north entrance wearing jeans and an untucked collared blue shirt. He looked uncomfortable as the patrons rose to their feet just as he appeared a bit out of sorts at a men's basketball game a few weeks ago. Hoke probably would have retreated quickly, disappearing out of sight, but the band broke into a rendition of The Victors and Hoke was soon pumping his fists in unison with the crowd.
That has got to be the dumbest criticism ever leveled. Braves & Birds obliterates it and the thinking behind this, convincingly pointing to the repeated uninspiring, cheap hires the filthy rich Big Ten makes as a major reason they've fallen behind in the race to not get destroyed 49-7 by Alabama:
Heaven forbid that the highest-paid employee at the University of Michigan, the man up front for the winningest program in college football history actually acknowledges that he is in the spotlight! Thank goodness that we’ve hired a guy who is going to do his work in front of 110,000 paying customers and millions watching on TV, but is uncomfortable with attention. This is bound to work out well!
At the same time Dave at Maize 'n' Brew pointlessly deconstructs Rodriguez's recruiting classes in an effort to… do… something. What other than piss people off is unclear.
So now we're positioning Hoke as a socially anxious Fred Flintstone and pretending that Rodriguez wasn't playing Sisyphus on the recruiting trail. I really want Michigan to win but this crap saps my enthusiasm because accompanying the wins will be yet more articles about how Brady Hoke "gets it" that claim "it" to be ineffable qualities like looking sloppy and knowing the fight song instead of having an upperclass quarterback and extant secondary. I'll deal with that should the time come.
I'm sorry if this occasions more eye-rolling from people who just want to leave Rodriguez dead and in the ground. I know I should just let it slide, but I can only take so many stupid things before I blow up. Otherwise I will die.
Etc.: Steven Threet retires due to concussion issues; here's his 58-yarder against Wisconsin. Brabbs profile in AnnArbor.com; The Daily profiles Carl Hagelin. AnnArbor.com also sets a new record for most extraneous words at the beginining of a headline: "Swedish Michigan hockey captain Carl Hagelin finds a second home with Wolverines." That's five. Hot diggity SEO. /kicks self in face
2/23/2010 – Michigan 52, Wisconsin 53 – 17-12, 7-9 Big Ten
For a while, the house we lived in—1331 Geddes, AKA "the Unlucky Palindrome," the purple-doored white house almost but not quite right next to the CCRB—had a fairly sizeable hole in the wall. Raffi's hip put it there. I put Raffi's hip there with a sort of flying tackle.
After this we were both on the ground. This was Raffi's territory. He has cerebral palsy, which means he can't walk that well or supinate his hands—he got around with the aid of crutches. As a result his arms were thick, meaty bludgeons. Since I'd just delivered a wall-shattering flying tackle to a guy who can't walk very well he used them to hit me, hard. It hurt.
This was "man fun." It was a semi-regular occurrence when someone had been studying too long or just felt like delivering a flying tackle. You would pick an available person and hurt them, and they would hurt you, and everyone would laugh.
Watching a freshman shooting 28% from three missing his buzzer-beater badly enough to make it was like absorbing one of Raffi's flat, heavy blows. I'd never witnessed something like that in person, and… yeah. Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But I'm not upset in the aftermath despite this being objectively worse than the Evan Turner half-court dagger last year. Last year's team was under .500, a miserable disappointment after being ranked #15 before the season. Even Michigan fans who thought that was a bit much didn't expect the massive regression we got. That shot just meant Michigan didn't get their very narrow chance at winning two more games and the automatic bid that went with it. Losing was the merciful end, but it stood as a symbol for everything that went wrong. It was somewhere between irritating and infuriating.
Josh Gasser punting it in off the backboard—BACKBOARDS DIE—is probably going to cost Michigan an at-large, and it comes after a season of near-misses. I already wrote the bit about that scoring chance you get with five minutes left in the hockey game. It turns out that if Michigan is watching the NCAA Tournament selection show with a jaundiced eye they'll be thinking about threes clanging off rims in Champaign and a one-armed freshman shooting a three pointer so wildly errant it hit a courtside photographer before going in. And not being able to finish the deal against Ohio State earlier. And needing one measly point to avoid overtime against Kansas.
By all rights we should be waking up today like most Sundays the past three falls: hungover, pissed off, and mopey. It doesn't seem like we are, collectively—aside from one nutball on WTKA this morning the mood was downright chipper for the first time since the Notre Dame game.
It's obvious why. Just being in a position to be hurt is good after what happened last year and what the expectations were for this one. I admit that as I edited Tim's season preview I cocked an eyebrow at Tim's sunny conclusion:
The one thing they can promise, though, is that they'll be fun to watch. Maybe not in every individual game, but seeing these young players grow over the course of the season should be an entertaining - if often frustrating - experience all its own.
31 games later that may be the most accurate season prediction ever purveyed in this space*.
It sucks that a blind Chinese six-year-old threw a ball through the center of the earth that just happened to have enough momentum to pop up through the underside of the basket and fall back through, but Michigan has the most improved player in the conference, the best freshman who will be around next year, no seniors, the 336th most-experienced team in the country, and two good guards on the way to fill out the roster. According to Kenpom this is already the best team Beilein's had at Michigan—they are 48th while the tourney team was 50th. There has been no point in the post-sanctions history of Michigan basketball where optimism is as warranted.
In the light of morning not even a tiny meteor launched from Tralfamadore billions of years ago falling through the Crisler arena roof and subsequently the net can take away the feeling that sometimes it's good to hurt because at least you know you're alive. Michigan basketball is alive.
*[Although I did say football would go 7-5 this year. Third time's a charm.]
Non-bullets of glassy destruction
Novak no shoot. Beilein apparently said that he doesn't believe playing Zack Novak at the 4 is affecting his shooting but it's hard to see the correlation as something other than causation. I don't think Michigan has a choice—in the Iowa and Wisconsin games when Smotrycz was put on Basabe/Leuer it led it instant easy baskets and a quick switch. I think the reason Michigan's mostly playing Smotrycz at the five is because he gets annihilated by guys with ball skills.
Getting Smotrycz to improve and getting Christian to the point where he can do at least one thing on offense—corner threes maybe—are key points for next season. I'm not sure how much more Michigan is going to get out of Morgan and Morris and we have an idea of what Hardaway will become. The shooting guard will be a white guy who shoots threes and occasionally Carlton Brundidge. The four is the biggest issue.
Beilein's bedroom. Has a poster of Jon Leuer where other people put Megan Fox. Jesus. He has a 119 ORtg and he's taking nearly a third of Wisconsin's shots! Random mock draft has him going in the second round to the Pistons, which okay. I'm all over that. I can't imagine him being not useful.
Also, Beilein has to be looking at Keaton Nankivil and thinking "where can I get a 6'8" to shoot 48% from three?" Either that or "was that guy in The Usual Suspects?"
Late game strategy. I was fine with it; the problem came on the last foul when Michigan could only burn a second or two off the clock. If they get a bit more Wisconsin is trying to shoot with three seconds. As it was, Michigan really needed to not have three guys in the paint by the time the pass was made. That ball was going up.
Senior day? What are they going to do for it? Are they going to bother with it?