spoiler alert: i linked this
|WHERE||Homesure Lending Arena
March 25th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –1.5|
Yes, I found a college hockey line.
Notre Dame is 19-10-7 on the year, 15-5-2 in Hockey East. They enter the tournament on quite a skid, having lost five of their last six games. Those games were against Providence, BU, and Northeastern—all participants in this year's tourney—so at least their losses have been against good teams and not, say, Ohio State, but that's not the ideal way to enter win-or-go-home time.
ND's offense curled up and died during this period. Just one of their last six games has featured more than two goals, that a 6-4 loss to Northeastern that knocked them out of the HE tournament. Their single win was a 1-0 shutout of BU.
ND has the statistical profile of a team that is responsible but less than overwhelming. Leading scorer Anders Bjork has 11-22-33—less than a PPG. Leading goal scorer Thomas DiPauli has 13. They're deep, though, with six double-digit scorers. They're slightly getting outshot on the year. They haven't given up a shorthanded goal this year; they've only scored one.
This is a team short on high-end talent but one that goes three lines deep in reasonably prolific dudes.
Notre Dame split against Minnesota, BU, and Penn State this season. Michigan was 3-2 against the Gophers, split against BU, and nuked Penn State into orbit.
DiPauli has 13 goals on the year
Despite recent struggles the Irish have still scored a healthy number of goals this season, albeit often against the lower reaches of Hockey East. Those lower reaches were not much different than the Big Ten's: Maine and UMass are below even MSU in RPI; UConn is just above the Spartans; Merrimack, Vermont and UNH barely edge out Wisconsin.
ND has bombed the aforementioned schools and nonconference opponent WMU, who is in the same RPI range and faced ND three times this year. In those 15 games ND scored 67 goals, 4.5 per outing. In their other 21 they managed just 46, 2.1 per. That is a stark difference. ND really struggles to score against good teams.
Now, you are probably thinking "does Michigan qualify as good in this department?" and I'm like… uh.
Maybe? The Ohio State series is a blip in what is otherwise a long stretch of games against decent to good teams that did not make me want to boil myself alive after the opposition hit double digits in odd man rushes. Since a 4-4 tie against Wisconsin, Michigan has played
- that series against OSU, guh
- a 5-2 win over Ferris State, which is in the tourney at RPI #30 thanks to a WCHA tourney win
- six games against Penn State and Minnesota, bubble teams, in which they gave up an average of 2 goals per game. PSU and Minnesota are 6th and 13th in scoring nationally.
I'm not saying they've turned the corner. I'm not saying they haven't, especially since some of those goals came in sloppy third periods with Michigan up a zillion.
Bjork spearheads ND's defense from center
Notre Dame is the #14 D in goals allowed, and while this is almost identical to where they stand in goals scored it's a much more consistent strength. Until that 6-4 loss to Northeastern in their most recent outing ND hadn't given up five since October (against PSU). They almost never scored shutouts and almost never gave up more than three goals (just five times all season and twice since November). ND can make it rough sledding against anyone.
Often that rough sledding means giving up 3 goals against tourney-level competition. Goals allowed this season against top 20 RPI opponents: 6, 3, 0, 3, 3, 3, 4, 2, 1, 3, 4, 2, 2, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 5, 4. You get the idea. They're not impregnable, or even particularly good at shutting down good teams.
Bjork, an Andrew Copp type, is by far ND's best forward defensively—consider that he is +27 with just 33 points and that the next-best F on the team is +15—and ND will seek to match him against the CCM line. Michigan has last change, which could be a factor.
Goalie Cal Petersen, drafted in the fifth round by the Sabres, is a major strength with a .928 save percentage.
Surprise: Notre Dame will want to stay out of the box. Michigan's rampant power play is #1 nationally at 32%, having scored on an amazing 17 of 29 opportunities over their last six games. Notre Dame's penalty kill is 20th at 84%—decent but nothing spectacular. They have just one short handed goal to their name this year.
Michigan will also want to stay out of the box, because their penalty kill is 45th and ND has a solid PP unit of its own, 10th nationally. The two teams are about even in penalty minutes.
A FEELING OTHER THAN TERROR?
I think this is a reasonably good matchup, though. RPI and KRACH both agree that this is a 7-vs-12 game. Those metrics don't take goal margin into account; ND has made a lot of hay against a slate of HE opponents that are more or less equivalent to Wisconsin and MSU. So has Michigan, of course, but the gap between performances against good teams is not nearly as large. Also Michigan is outscoring the opposition by 1.9 goals per game; ND is at .8. Michigan just bombed teams slightly worse than the ones ND lost to repeatedly. ND's defense doesn't look capable of shutting CCM down; they haven't shut down many good teams this year. Michigan is and should be favored.
Unfortunately for Michigan, their bell curve is so wide that being favored might not mean a whole bunch. Jeff Jackson is a very good coach and Michigan can struggle when the opposition has a high-energy forecheck going, as OSU did in that series.
If the defensive improvement over the past month holds, Michigan should get a couple of ridiculous goals from CCM and ND will struggle to get past two or three. These days I call two goals a "Michigan shutout" since that's enough to win. If Jackson gets in Michigan's grill with his coaching chops something like OSU could go down, albeit tighter since ND is not much of an offensive team against reasonable opposition.
I think it's a W, but hockey plinko.
Kind of a big deal. PG recruit Xavier Simpson won the Ohio Mr. Basketball award after averaging 27 points and 6 assists a game. You may remember that one Trey Burke won Mr. Basketball in Ohio, an award that comes with some heft. Recent winners include Luke Kennard, Burke, Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Jon Diebler, OJ Mayo, and someone named Lebron.
Both Beilein and Simpson welcome the Burke comparison:
"With me going to Michigan and seeing the success they had with [Burke]. What I'm hearing, from out of high school no one ever thought he would go to the NBA. And Michigan put the ball in his hand and helped him make the right decisions and get better as a player. That prepared him for the next level, so hopefully they can do that for me."
Simpson is a much higher rated recruit than Burke was, but I think we'll take Trey 2.0.
Let's stop doing the dumb RPI thing. College basketball RPI is broken. Broken things can be exploited, and the Pac-12 did that so successfully that they got a bunch of ridiculous seeds in this year's NCAA tournament. Those teams all bombed out of the tournament save Oregon, which got a one-seed everyone thought MSU had on lock. Ask the Spartans if that mattered, assuming you can keep a straight face while doing so. (You cannot.)
This was not an accident. In both men's and women's basketball the Pac-12 has made a concerted effort to game the RPI. It started with the Washington women's coach, and the league is so proud of it they've put up articles it on pac-12.com itself:
Neighbors’ work developing a mathematical picture of success for the Pac-12 inspired conference coaches to change the way their programs scheduled in the non-conference seasons and has strengthened the conference from top to bottom.
“It’s one of the most productive things we’ve done,” Close said. “The best part about this story is Mike’s selflessness, but also the coaches putting the conference above themselves.” …
“He came in with this huge packet, with color-coded graphs. The message was, ‘Everybody needs to get eight or nine wins (in the non-conference) and you need to play the best teams you can beat’,” Close said. “Everyone was brainstorming. Everybody understood this has to be bigger than just your team. We have to help each other.”
This worked, as the Pac-12's evidently mediocre teams got seeds they did not deserve. Meanwhile, a 15-3 Big Ten champion got a five-seed, and Michigan was relegated to a play-in game largely because the Big Ten didn't put anyone in the 50-100 range of the RPI. Some of this is the Rutgers effect. (Thanks, Delany.) Rutgers was a mandatory anchor on every schedule in the league. But some of it is the fact that the league is playing far too many voluntary games against Rutgers equivalents.
I complain about this just about every year. Four years ago I put a post together titled "How To Schedule In College Basketball" after a selection controversy between Drexel and Iona. What leapt out at me was Michigan's nonconference SOS. It was objectively much tougher than either of those teams but when it came to numbers it was barely better than Drexel's miserable schedule and far worse than Iona's mediocre one.
This is because Michigan fills out the bottom of their schedule with the very dregs of college basketball. Jason Lisk:
Then, you look at the non-conference. Michigan played Xavier, NC State, Texas, Connecticut, and SMU. That’s more top quality games then most programs played. But, from December 12 to December 23, they also played Delaware State, Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State, and Bryant. They won them by an average of 40 points. Each of those teams is at 275 or below in the RPI. Those teams are collectively 28-90 against Division I teams, and play against other low level teams (that whole opponent’s opponent’s record thing).
That’s killing Michigan.
If you just took out two of those games, and replace them with home games against mid-level MAC teams like Eastern Michigan and Toledo, the RPI goes from 66 to 55. With just that change alone. Heck, even if they lost one of those games (and they would be heavy favorites at home), the RPI actually goes up slightly. That defies logic.
For years I'd assumed this was a Dave Brandon thing. Towson is cheaper than Richmond, end of story. After Brandon's departure it's clear that John Beilein is the guy lining up Delaware State (#348 in Kenpom) and Bryant (#345) because he doesn't want the slightest chance at a loss.
This hurts Michigan and the Big Ten because the chance Michigan loses to the #200 team is also negligible. For example, per Kenpom Michigan had a ~94% chance to beat then-#203 Minnesota when the teams played at Crisler in January. Despite the very small gulf in likely outcome between a game against a bad team and an awful one, the RPI assigns very different values to those games.
The committee does attempt to see through these flaws, but everything is framed by RPI. Your RPI. Your record against the top 50 and top 100 in RPI. Conference RPI. Gaming the system clearly works; Michigan is doing the exact opposite of that. It just about cost Michigan a bid this year. It's well past time for the school and the league to figure that out and exploit it.
Precisely, good sir. Harbaugh on Sankey's Think Of The Children campaign:
“I thought it was fake outrage. I thought it wasn’t really real,” Harbaugh told Mike & Mike when asked his reaction to their reaction. “The moral high ground of the sanctity of spring break, that’s what people chose to use as their moral stance? I thought it was fake. I thought it was fake outrage.”
January February Middle Tennessee April. Pat Forde in the aftermath of MSU getting Giddy Potts'd:
Here’s what might also have played a part in Middle Tennessee’s calm reaction to shocking the world: the Blue Raiders knew they were no 15 seed. That was a joke, and part of a major choke.
By Michigan State, yes. But also by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
All hail MTSU, which put Murfreesboro, Tenn., on the map Friday. Its 90-81 upset of the Spartans is one of eight all-time victories for a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 seed – but Middle Tennessee never should have been a 15.
That’s on the committee.
The facts that Forde marshals for his argument are ridiculous. One: the winner of CUSA has never been seeded that low. CUSA used to have Memphis in it. This version of the CUSA had zero top-100 Kenpom teams. Forde cites the fact that CUSA was the #21 league at that very site without considering the fact that teams are not leagues. MTSU was not even the best 15 seed per Kenpom—that would be Cal State Bakersfield. The only teams in the tournament rated lower than MTSU above the 15 line were a couple of 14s.
MTSU was off by a seed line at most, which they promptly demonstrated by getting hamblasted by Syracuse.
Well, yeah. Kyle Connor left Penn State in a state of disbelief:
"I’m a firm believer that Kyle Connor is the best player I’ve ever played against and I even told him that in the handshake line,” Goodwin told reporters after the game. …
“[Connor] does everything very, very quickly,” Guy Gadowsky told reporters. “It’s amazing how he just gets himself into such an offensive advantageous position. I think it’s just what you can’t really explain that just makes him so darn good.”
After a few years of struggle against PSU, Michigan put the hammer down in 2016. They scored at least six goals in each of the five games, culminating in 7-1, 6-1, and 6-2 demolitions.
I mean I guess I'm not surprised. No idea if CBC News has the inside scoop on Kyle Connor but I'm not exactly expecting him back next year, and neither are they:
The focus on him is certainly justified and if Connor decides to leave school once his season wraps up (no decision has been made in this regard, though it would be a shock if he chose to stay at Michigan), signs with the Jets and eventually settles into the NHL game at the level that's expected of him, then let the good times roll.
I would assume that comes from the Jets' camp and indicates they intend and expect to sign him. I always think NHL teams are shortsighted to do this because the CBA accelerates free agency for players under 20; grabbing a kid at 19 is removing a year of team control at 27. But nobody seems to care for whatever reason.
Hockey incoming. NTDP forward Will Lockwood draws notice from NHL draft expert Kyle Woodlief, who names him a rising prospect:
Will Lockwood (U.S. NTDP U-18) — Showed lots of speed and was buzzing all over the offensive zone at last month’s Five Nations tournament, where he was one of the best U.S. forwards.
Lockwood is one of seven scholarship skaters* Chris Heisenberg shows as committed to Michigan next year; they are scheduled to lose two guys to graduation. Even if Connor, Werenski, and Downing** are all signing there's quite a logjam. Michigan has eight D this year and is set to carry nine next year even minus Werenski and Downing; they'll add an extra forward as well.
*[F Lukas Samuelsson is also listed but Michigan did not acknowledge him when they announced their incoming class. Generally that means the player is a PWO.]
**[Ben Clymer and Random Verb Guy were talking about Werenski and Downing like they were both out the door to the NHL after this year. Werenski we all expect to go; Downing hasn't been talked about much. I'm guessing they got word from someone or another and were impolite enough to repeatedly reference it on the broadcast because they can't talk about gritty grit heart for literally the entire thing.]
Etc.: More satellite camps: Dallas and Waco are on the table, with the Waco event a stop at Baylor's camp. That company that runs the summer soccer friendlies briefly listed Chelsea versus Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium on July 30th; it's since been changed to TBA. Harbaugh clinic notes.
A big thanks to our sponsors. The show is presented by UGP & Moe's. Shopping with them helps us and supports good dudes. Check out 100years.moe for the rich history of Michigan's oldest apparel store.
A disappointing season. Where to go from here? Optimism levels for next year are calibrated. MAAR is praised. Weezy is prayed for.
Brian's Hockey Podcast
starts at 29:41
Ace actually watched both games this weekend so we'll cut him some slack. Kyle Connor is good, you shouldn't crosscheck people in the head, oh god the tourney. Good to have it back, need new pants.
Gimmicky Top Five: Kenpom Wishes
starts at 46:18
The five different things we want to see change in Kenpom this year. Yes, "minutes" count. No, "explosive dunks narrowly missed" does not.
"Across 110th Street"
"The Payback," James Brown
"It Hurts Until It Doesn't," Mothers
THE USUAL LINKS
3/18/16 – Michigan 7, Penn State 2 – 23-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten
3/19/16 – Michigan 5, Minnesota 3 – 24-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten, Big Ten Tourney champions
It takes me a while to grasp what a hockey player is like. Part of that is just the game: most of the time even the best players are on the bench, and then there are ten guys trying to control a puck that bounces around. It takes time for a player new to college to establish what he's going to be, and then further time for me to figure it out. Like, I thought Dylan Larkin was a good player. I couldn't describe his game like I could describe Zach Hyman's. Hyman, a senior, was excellent in the corners and capable of bursting from the boards to the net-front with little warning. Once there he had a deft touch at the net front. Larkin… scored a lot.
Like Larkin the year before, Kyle Connor has put up points in buckets without having a distinct on-ice personality for much of this year. That has gradually changed as the season progressed and Connor kept scoring on one-timers from absurd angles, kept dropping saucer passes directly on his teammates' sticks. A debate about which Michigan player should be their primary Hobey candidate went from wide open to probably Connor.
In the aftermath of a Big Ten Tournament in which Connor scored a natural hat trick in nine minutes and left Eric Schierhorn in a heap of self-loathing with this…
…both the Hobey and personality issues have been resolved. Connor for Hobey, because he is an all-around offensive dynamo.
He is fast. Everything is fast. His skating is fast. His shot gets out fast and travels fast. He is precise. Everything is precise. His ability to hit the water bottle from one knee on a one timer is something I've never seen from a Michigan player, even Hilbert or Tambellini. Seemingly every game now sees a saucer pass that elevates itself a good foot off the ice and then lands perfectly flat on a teammate's stick.
On Michigan's rampant power play he calmly checked options high and across before sliding the puck to Motte at the side of the goal. The pass was not remarkable in itself, but the process by which Connor moved the defense around with his posture and the fact that at any moment he might do something Kyle-Connor-esque opened up an opportunity. This was the weekend when Connor went from a guy on an awesome line to the guy on the awesome line, and that's no slight to Motte or Compher. I mean, go back to that Vine and check the pass that got Connor the opportunity and who it's from. JT Compher is awesome. He's not the guy.
And so Michigan grabs a banner. As banners go it's not exactly a monumental achievement—it's on par with the GLI in games played. But it goes up in the Yost rafters anyway. More importantly, Michigan got another week further away from the alarming Ohio State meltdown. I'll take two even-strength goals allowed on a weekend. Two goals is more or less a shutout for this team.
Even when Minnesota scored three consecutive goals to take the lead on Saturday those felt like things that will happen in hockey games, and not an endless parade of unchecked opponents in the slot. Sorting out the signal from the noise in hockey requires a lot of feelingsball, and my feeling is that the team has responded to the OSU debacle with four of their most defensively responsible games of the season.
Extending that streak of games that don't make fans want to pull their hair out was more important than the actual trophy; mission accomplished. Having Kyle Connor definitively stamp his name on this season, nationwide, is a bonus.
Michigan enters the most bowel-rending postseason known to man firing on at least most of their many, many cylinders. It could all blow up in a second, because hockey. It could all blow up because this hockey team has many guns, some of which point at their own feet. It could blow up because the universe hates you. There are many ways in which doom comes in single-elimination playoff hockey. But if you squint and forget about two weeks ago…
On the opposition. I haven't seen any Notre Dame hockey this year but at a glance they look like a typical Jeff Jackson team: fast, disciplined, slightly D-oriented. They score just over 3 goals a game (good for 15th)* and give up just over two (14th). They are reasonably good at everything and not great at any one thing. They're good-ish on the PP and good-ish on the PK. They spread their scoring out. Nobody's got more than 13 goals but six guys are in double digits.
As far as common opponents go, ND split with Penn State, Minnesota, and BU. They're just 19-10-7 but KRACH ranks their schedule difficulty 10th; Michigan languishes in 32nd. Both KRACH and RPI have this a game between #7 and #12, so Michigan got a slight break there—emphasis, however, is on slight. ND is a whisker behind Yale and Harvard.
Should be an exciting game. ND has a lot of draft picks and gets in your face on the forecheck.
*[Yes, the #15 O in the country is almost two goals a game worse than Michigan.]
Michigan's Michael Downing ejected after a crosscheck to the head of Penn State captain David Glen pic.twitter.com/iIg7Tfueb5
— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) March 18, 2016
Welp. Downing picked up a game misconduct for a crosscheck to the head delivered to a player who was on the opposite side of the ice from the puck and not even looking at him. That was his third of the season and brought with it a mandatory suspension from the title game; given his track record I wouldn't have been surprised to see another game added on for an incident that was pure violence without even the whisper of a legit hockey play.
At least that incident seems like a relapse by now. Downing got chippy late in those Ohio State games but so did a lot of Michigan players; when faced with games that were not inexplicable three or four goal deficits Downing's been even keel for the last couple months.
In his absence… Sam Piazza stepped in and Michigan didn't skip a beat. They even inserted Piazza next to De Jong on the nominal top pairing, which speaks both to Michigan's confidence in their D one through six and their confidence in Piazza—who also absorbed Downing's PP minutes—himself. And he's repaid that confidence, with a 1-5-6 line, a +7 rating, and zero penalties in 16 games. That is an incredible luxury to have as your seventh defenseman.
Getting more active. Both De Jong and Boka have been much more noticeable presences near the opposition's goal over the past few weeks. Michigan is doing a lot more rotation between forwards and D, which goes a long way towards making your cycle unpredictable enough to generate 5x5 chances. I still remember a vintage Minnesota team from a while back—the one on which Jordan Leopold, a defenseman, won the Hobey—that was terrifying specifically because they were the best at using their defensemen to generate 5x5 scoring chances. Michigan is not that, but I think they'll be in good shape next year as those two guys get older.
Good lord, the power play. Yes, I expect to score on every power play now. Michigan was 6/9 this weekend. (Nice.) They had excellent chances on two of the three they did not manage to convert; it is a machine unlike any I've seen at M. They lead the country, converting at 32%(!), and are 17/29(!!!) over their last six games.
Mandatory attendance rant. There was nobody at this tournament even when Minnesota was there. It's embarrassing, and it's unnecessary. Michigan and Penn State averaged 97% of capacity this year and played in front of a few hundred people. A best two out of three series at Yost ends up with 40-60 times the attendance of this neutral-site farce.
There is no fixing this. Nobody but Minnesota fans and the odd Wisconsin fan will show in St. Paul. Nobody but Michigan fans will show in Detroit. The geographic realities of the Big Ten demand a return to home sites if anyone is ever going to show.
College hockey refuses to acknowledge this. Just yesterday the WCHA commissioner unveiled the "Big Idea". Prepare to be underwhelmed:
While the logistics, of which there would be many, still need to be worked out, the basic idea is to host all three conference tournaments for the WCHA, Big Ten, and NCHC in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on the same weekend, and stagger the start times as much as possible to allow fans the opportunity to see as many games as possible. While not mentioned in the article, one rumor suggested all three conference tournament finals then being played on the final day of the season at the XCel Energy Center. The idea is to turn the weekend into a festival of college hockey for the city.
That's great for St. Paul, I guess. It's terrible for everyone in the Big Ten other than Minnesota and should be a non-starter. The idea that people who aren't interested in going to their own conference tournament will be convinced because teams they don't play against are also having a tournament is fanciful, and that permanently shuts out every Big Ten fanbase other than the Gophers. It's an idiotic idea. So of course:
The Big Ten seems the most interested at the moment, with B1G deputy commissioner and most hated man in college hockey Brad Traviolia admitting that is one of many potential options they will discuss and consider for the future, saying "We recognize that the attendance hasn’t been what we had hoped" under the current set-up.
College hockey is not big enough for neutral site playoffs other than the Frozen Four, period. I will never understand why they keep trying.