From Portage Northern.
I don't have anything sweeping to say about last weekend's basketball and hockey games that's not a replica of what I said over the past couple weeks. Depending on whether the hockey team is flinging in seemingly unplanned goals or not the team is either okay or difficult to watch, but they are winning just about as much as anyone else in the country so that's an improvement from last year. The basketball team is desperately young and looks it unless it's flinging in half its three pointers, which it has the last couple games.
But I did go to the Joe and Crisler over the weekend, so some assorted items.
Make it rain. I thought "7 of 17 is pretty good" at halftime, and then Michigan went 7 of 9 in the second half, finishing a second straight game with a 3PT% of essentially 50%. This is obviously unsustainable. The top shooting team in the country is Northern Arizona. They're making 45% from behind the arc… and are 312th in 3PA/FGA. Michigan's sixth in that category. The rims will go clang again when opponents are getting out on Michigan's shooters.
But they count just as much as all those jacked up threes they clattered off rims earlier in the year. Michigan's three point shooting has been steadily improving and now they can claim to be above average for what I believe is probably the first time in the Beilein era. They're up to 34.8%, good for #147. Smotrycz, Vogrich, Novak, and Douglass are all at or above 37%. The only sources of three-point shots that aren't net benefits are Morris, who's at 29% on slightly more than two per game, and Hardaway, who's at 31% with nearly six attempts per.
BTW, Michigan State is enduring an agonizingly similar stretch on defense—opponents are shooting essentially 50% on their last 71(!) attempts from three.
Hardaway volume redux. I don't think I had a problem with more than a couple of Hardaway's many, many shots against the Hawkeyes since he was either launching wide-open threes or dealing with a short shot clock. It's tough to complain when he was 5-10 from behind the arc.
After Beilein said he "almost" has a green light to shoot, which seems like a diplomatic way to say "has a little Stu Douglass disease going on" since apparently everyone else on the team has said light. Hardaway's got the worst two point pecentage on the team* to go with his below-average three pointers.
This isn't a knock on Hardaway's potential—if he can just get himself a little more under control and trust in the guys around him, those numbers should increase drastically. The individual stat that will bear the closest attention as Michigan goes into an important 2011-12 season is Hardaway's offensive efficiency rating. I'm betting it takes a big step forward and Michigan suddenly becomes a tough offense to deal with.
*[Colton Christian's 2-for-11 season excluded.]
Not Hassan Wasabi. I vaguely remember John Gasaway praising some Iowa freshman that Fran McCaffery took with him when he left Siena for Iowa, but didn't remember the name. So I spent a big chunk of the first half alternately angry at Michigan's defense and wondrous that a man named "Hassan Wasabi" was playing for Iowa instead of getting kicked in the face by Bruce Lee. (Or Vogrich @ right).
It eventually dawned on me that the guy's name was "Melsahn Basabe," which is still pretty awesome but doesn't quite live up to my misconceptions.
Also awesome: Basabe himself. If Iowa hadn't hired McCaffery he'd be destroying the MAAC, as Gasaway said. Hell, he's already doing that to the Big Ten: he's shooting 57%, around 100th nationally in OReb%, DReb%, and Blk%. He's a black hole with no assists and plenty of turnovers but dang, man. How was this guy ticketed for Siena?
Defense slowly evaporating. Of course, Michigan's defense had something to do with that. Whenever someone shoots 9 of 11 you've been pwned. Halfway through the conference schedule Michigan has flipped their scouting report from the nonconference—the defense is the relative weak point.
I couldn't tell you why other than to go "youth," but remember earlier in the year when I suggested Michigan would actually be a relatively big team this year? That's not happening because McLimans has played himself out of the rotation, Smotrycz has been erratic, and the two centers have been foul-prone. This results in quite a bit more of Zack Novak at the 4 than anyone wanted or predicted. The kicker: a good chunk of the time that lineup features Smotrycz as a hilariously undersized center. Result: effective height in the bottom third of the nation despite having an average height that's 42nd.
It's going to be up to the freshmen over 6'7" to make this better next year since both recruits are guards. The main problem to my eyes is that Smotrycz doesn't really have a backup. It's either Novak or Christian, neither of whom is a great option.
no blue line for you, except that means all blue line for everyone
Guuuughghghr. Michigan's played some entertaining low-scoring games—Friday against Alaska was one—but they've also played some clunkers, like that OT loss against Ohio State. That was a grunting nothing of a game played mostly between the blue lines that turned on some terrible goaltending. The game against the Joe was the latter. Scoring chances were few and far between anda lot of them were due to error more than someone actually doing something right.
Now I'm full-on worried. Michigan got outshot for the third straight game, this one against the tenth-place team in the CCHA. They've scored two goals in the last three games that weren't shots from the point, and while Caporusso's goal against MSU was a nice effort play by Scooter it was a play where a puck bounced fortuitously, not something Michigan had intent behind. You're going to get your share of those goals over the course of a season but it seems like teams that are Frozen Four good have more goals where plans were successfully executed. Michigan's had very few of those.
Lynch penalty shot. I had no real expectation he'd score, but the way that went down is a depressing summary of where the team is right now. Time was Michigan's second round picks were offensive machines; Michigan's are just guys. Lynch, Rust, Brown, Caporusso—all of them are second or third round draft picks that don't seem to do much in the offensive zone. All are getting outscored by Scooter. That's the big issue with the team—the guys who are supposed to carry the water offensively aren't. They've gotten away with it much of the year thanks to the defensive corps and Rust and Hagelin being an NHL checking line already.
Pairwise. One bad loss and Michigan slides down to ninth. As I said, when I first started looking at the thing a couple weeks ago Michigan was close to their apex with a lot of teams nipping at their heels. They cannot afford to struggle down the stretch.
Hello, Hunwick. Never say Shawn Hunwick can't take advantage of someone else's groin injury. His save percentage was hovering around .900 when Hogan went out. A couple months later he's at .923. Hogan's save percentage this year? .923. Hogan was dressed as the third goalie on Saturday and is close to returning but at this point it's hard to go with him over Hunwick—he's only played nine games in about the past year.
Every recruit ever committed to Michigan. To recap the "Hello" posts if you missed any of them during GMD11:
- Three star OH CB Tamani Carter, a recent Minnesota commit, was offered by Michigan and flipped.
- 3/4 star CB Raymon Taylor, an Indiana decommit, went with Michigan when they offered him the second time around.
- Michigan replaced decommit K Matt Goudis with CA K Matt Wile, an Army All-America participant who doesn't have the rankings but we're talking about kicker rankings here.
- 3/4 star LB Antonio Poole was offered and quickly committed after meeting with Mattison. Touch The Banner also has a take.
- Michigan snake oiled Purdue commit and three star TX QB Russell Bellomy. TTB sees shades of McNown.
In addition, OH TE/LB Frank Clark and CO LB Leilon Willingham have moved into the "expected to commit" category. Clark's from Glenville, of all places.
The names and stars aren't that impressive—the partially shirtless are shirtless in the same way Martavious Odoms was, a four star to one site and a generic three star to the others—but if we're talking about Michigan 2013 is the new Martavious Odoms better than air? Yes. And who doesn't like Odoms, anyway?
Even if this is just a version of Rodriguez's quick strikes upon taking the Michigan job, Hoke and Mattison (and I guess some other guys*) are doing this in about a fourth of the time Rodriguez had to assemble the last eight members of his hybrid class. And they screwed over Purdue in the process, thereby twisting the knife on Danny Hope and blowing up one of the very first Rodriguez The Demon memes: the "gentleman's agreement." Excellent work all around. Hope you play as a redshirt senior, kid.
Now we've got some insight into what the coaches think is lacking on the team: defense. Here is a small child reacting to this not at all obvious revelation.
there's gambling in this establishment?
More than the linebacker avalanche it's Michigan essentially turning down one-time silent WR commits Devin Lucien, one of those borderline four star types, and Hakeem Flowers, a three star with epic offers. Both tried to firm up those commits with the new staff and were politely told "defense or GTFO." They chose the latter. Michigan has a surplus on the outside now but surely one of those guys wouldn't have been overkill, right?
Similarly, this Heitzman kid they picked up from Vandy is a 6'3", 225 pounder who doesn't seem like he's got a high upside as a DE. So everyone assumed he was a tight end, since Michigan was trying hard to acquire one even before the shift to a more MANBALL philosophy. He denies this, saying Michigan isn't even talking about offense. Which is weird because between Roh, Paskorz, and Beyer Michigan seems to have undersized weakside DE covered for a good long while.
*[Seriously, all the commits save the Purdue snake oilin' are on defense, and the only defensive coach other than Mattison is Mark Smith. Smith is a 50-something dude who's afraid of flash photography. While a lot of the guys are linebackers I think "I coached Ray Lewis" is more the pitch than "I was the ILB coach at Indiana State for 22 years."]
Good for Michigan State hockey, good for interesting games against State in the future, still extremely uncertain if they'll get back to where they were under Mason. They've never recruited at the level Michigan has but made up for it with suffocating anti-hockey. Now they're not very good, playing in a dead, half-full building, and trying to compete against the OHL, Michigan, Miami, and Notre Dame. If they hire a real star they'll get back quickly but is Blasi going to leave Miami for MSU? Is George Gwozdecky? I have a hard time seeing MSU splashing the cash for their hockey coach—we'll see.
If it's Danton Cole that's the equivalent of hiring Brady Hoke. He'll be decent but that hire won't put the fear of God in Red or Jeff Jackson. The only name in the TOC thread on this is current assistant Tom Newton, which would be like hiring Mike Debord if Carr had stuck around for the 3-9 year. I'm sure you can dismiss that possibility.
While we're on hockey here's that delightful interlude from the aftermath of the Brown scrum:
Via Michigan Hockey Net.
People started muttering about what it would take for John Beilein to get the axe. It's in the paper and everything. BWS is digging out the wet owl and following that up with the obvious argument about his record.
This is what it will take for John Beilein to get fired this year: Armageddon. There are enough arrows pointed in the right direction, mostly in the persons of Burke, Brundidge, Robinson, Hardaway, et al, that Michigan will give Beilein the epic length of rope they gave Tommy Amaker. He won't get nailed next year and the team will be considerably better in 11-12, and probably better yet in 12-13, whereupon they'll either be a consistent tourney team or even the smitten Michigan athletic department will have to cut the cord.
Of course, I said this about Rich Rodriguez, too, but John Beilein is the kind of saint Michigan likes to be associated with.
Doctor Saturday embarked on his annual defense of the "recruiting-industrial complex." Every year the numbers are the same: on an individual and team basis recruiting numbers are not fate but not useless. Get The Picture set to highlightin' the bit I was going to highlight because Michigan is Georgia:
Those 13 schools [at the top of the recruiting rankings] alone have consistently produced a majority of the top five in the final polls, half of the top 10, at least half of the teams in the BCS and all of the national champions in the BCS era. (With Auburn’s triumph – thanks mainly to über recruit Cam Newton, the five-star headliner of a top five class last year – only two of the top dozen recruiting powers have failed to win a BCS championship: Georgia and Michigan. [Emphasis added.]
We've had a lot of reasons our recruiting success hasn't translated to the field—at least, not the field in Ann Arbor. Georgia not so much, as they seem around where Carr was in '05—good young second year quarterback on a team that's around .500 with a declining coach that has maybe a kick or two left at the can.
People who don't lift weights found out what "rhabdomyolysis" is thanks to Iowa. I'm on with Orson when he dismisses the "save the children" aspect of the media reaction—the big issue is more effective sickle cell trait screening, not squatting until you pee brown. While Iowa's strength coach should probably be fired it's more stupid than immoral.
But man can Iowa rack up the terrible PR. Kirk Ferentz wasn't even at the press conference, and the university thought it could get away with a bland press release about thirteen kids being in the hospital. Add that to Iowa's seemingly biannual drug explosion, that weird press conference held late last year in which unnamed rumors were debunked without mentioning what they were, the laundry list of Hawkeye arrests, and that sketchy sexual assault cover-up-type-substance and it's a wonder that beautiful square-jawed Kirk Ferentz is still regarded a molder of men. Or maybe it's not.
Was that a question?
All right then.
The meme was blessed by Steele. Remember those depressing charts from the past couple years with returning starters and whatnot? Yeah…
|3||San Jose St||7||11||2||20|
…different story this year. That doesn't even count Troy Woolfolk, though it does count Terrible McFieldgoalkicker. Call it a wash.
Oh, Snape. Michigan soccer associate head coach Paul Snape got the head job at Butler. I'm only mentioning it so I can post… awww. Stupid Google. I can't find the version of this…
That I once saw somewhere that said "Oh, Snape." Also it turns out to be a Harry Potter reference. Stupid Harry Potter and the horrifying things you'll see photoshopped if you attempt to find the slightly modified version of this stupid animated GIF.
Etc.: Thumbs up to the Mountain West for its supreme dickery in moving this year's TCU-Boise game to the blue turf. Mark Smith looks like that all the time, but it's less alarming when he's talking. Hecklinksi, meanwhile, sounds like he's saying "you are feeling very sleepy" no matter what he's saying. It's very soothing.
1/21/2011 – Michigan 2, Alaska 0 – 16-6-4, 13-4-1 CCHA
1/22/2011 – Michigan 4, Alaska 3 – 17-6-4, 14-4-1 CCHA
"We had a lot of guys playing hard, but our team didn’t play as well it needed to.”
I've been going to Yost for a long time and I don't think I've ever seen Michigan outshot on consecutive nights, let alone by the margins they were outshot this weekend. And yet they still won. They won because Shawn Hunwick was both awesome and fortunate—at least three pucks sailed harmlessly through the crease behind him on Saturday—and Alaska demonstrated that they are the sort of team that scores two goals a game even when the other is dead-set on making a pile of errors.
I swear Michigan athletics is designed to make me look bad. A week after suggesting this set of defensemen was a near-flawless machine they coughed pucks up left and right, failed to check guys screaming through the slot, and gave up an epic number of odd-man rushes. On Saturday Alaska had a 2-on-0 thanks to Mac Bennett blowing a tire at the blue line. They didn't score. That was kind of the weekend.
Even Merrill broke character to join in. Of all people, he was the guy headed to the box to give Alaska a minute of 5-on-3 with five minutes left in the weekend and the game in the balance. His slash was pretty dumb. That was also kind of the weekend.
Michigan's last loss was courtesy of back-to-back dumb 5-on-3s ceded to Michigan State. Michigan's penalty kill is really bad this year. The building was braced for a red light. But then Chad Langlais dove to chip a puck out of the zone off the faceoff, Rust and Hagelin played with the puck for thirty seconds, and by the time the Nanooks got set up in the zone they'd spent 80% of their 5-on-3. Ten seconds later it was over, Yost was on its feet, and Michigan had swept an Alaska team that had gone two years since coming out of a weekend without a point.
Today varsity is two points clear of Notre Dame with a game in hand. They've won nine of their last ten and dropped the one in overtime. They're one Ferris State win away from a one seed. But this week the amalgam of parts that add up to more than they should individually looks like a ramshackle jalopy ready to fall apart. Hopefully this can serve as a wakeup call, rather than actual losses foretold by Saturday's performance.
Non-bullets of escape
Strategery Q. Should Alaska have pulled their goalie during the 5-on-3? I don't know, but I think I would have. You're not going to get a better chance to score and the chances a three-man group can break out against six skaters seems incredibly low.
Adding to the uneasiness. The only even-strength Michigan goal of the weekend that wasn't a point shot came from Scooter Vaughn directly off the draw. (Rust's goal was a deflection from Moffie.) Michigan's defensemen can really pick them out from the point but I doubt that's sustainable.
Moffie, yo. Lee Moffie had a three game goal streak and picked up an assist on that Rust goal when another point shot of his was deflected in. And he didn't seem responsible for much, if any, of the scary defending on Saturday.
Greenham FTW. After Michigan's first goal on Friday a student chucked a small plastic ball on the ice. Moments later, Carl Hagelin was decked as he skated by the Alaska bench. A scrum ensued, followed by one of those interminable referee conferences where they take ten minutes to give everyone matching minors.
In this window of time Alaska goalie Scott Greenham attempted to flip the ball back into the crowd. His first attempt was unsuccessful and drew boos. The second worked, but Greenham had miscalculated: he put it back where it came from. Whoever caught it chucked it right back on the ice. Greenham sighed demonstratively and set about trying to flip the thing over the boards on the other side, but couldn't. He eventually hit it to Rust, who put it over in one, causing the crowd to blow up and Rust to celebrate like he'd just won the Stanley Cup.
It was the best interminable referee conference ever.
Speaking of interminable referee conference. How does Michigan come out of that with an unsportsmanlike bonus penalty to Carl Hagelin? He took a penalty for getting nailed. Other frustrations from the refs:
- not immediately waving off the hypothetical Alaska tying goal for goaltender interference, and then not giving Alaska a penalty for running Hunwick over.
- watching two Michigan sticks cleaved in half right after Merrill had gotten out of the box for his slash and calling neither.
I thought the reffing over the weekend was actually pretty good, but those were weird/frustrating.
Yost bits. A couple of student cheers that were memorable: shutting up the Alaska parents section after their third goal with a "Sarah Palin" cheer and chanting "where's our candy?" at a linesman who had flipped them some the night before.
Pairwise bits. Bits flipped somewhere in the PWR and Michigan now slides behind Boston College. They're sixth. This is probably because Ferris dropped under .500 in RPI and Michigan lost their shiny TUC record against them. That's enough to flip the BC comparison.
For an example of how volatile the PWR is, especially at this point, RPI was mentioned as the #16 team in the preview. After the weekend they're up to 8th. Swings all over the place.
I did take a look at a couple of the comparisons Michigan is losing right now and it does seem possible that they would be able to pass some of the teams in front of them without passing them in RPI. They will not win the North Dakota comparison without heaven and earth moving, but they would win comparisons with BC and Denver if Ferris was still a TUC; the UMD comparison would be very much up for grabs with a narrow margin in the common opponents category making the difference.
1/14/2011 – Michigan 3, Ferris State 2 – 14-6-4, 11-4-1 CCHA
1/15/2011 – Michigan 6, Ferris State 1 – 15-6-4, 12-4-1 CCHA
It's hard to get any emotional mileage from a game you saw on Comcast Local in a bar. The audio was trying to ignore Joe Buck calling an NFL game, the picture quality was 70s-vintage, and the camera was placed so close to the ice that not getting seasick was the main goal. Also it was a blowout.
Friday night, on the other hand, Michigan fell behind 2-0 and looked like they had let whatever momentum they'd gathered towards the back half of 2010 slip away. Commence well-practiced emo time.
Over the next four periods later they outscored a decent Ferris State team 8-0 en route to locking up a home-and-home sweep that sees them top the league* for the first time in over a year. Their goal differential is the best in the league. They're knocking on the door of a #1 seed in the tournament. And it's all a bit mystifying how.
At midseason it seemed like this team was just another middle of the road bunch that would make the tournament but didn't seem like much of a threat to do anything once there, as has been the MO for most Michigan teams since Red's great asskickers of the late 90s. It still kind of seems like that, but something else is creeping in: doubt.
I have the paradigm of a great Michigan team in my head. It has a 5'8" guy who could stickhandle through the Red Army. It has another guy who is a scoring machine thanks to the midget. It has a great craggy mountain of a defenseman who is impenetrable and another defenseman who is a completely insane goal pirate and therefore my favorite player on the team. It has Jed Ortmeyer, who is also my favorite player, and a goalie that everyone is secretly suspicious of.
This edition has some of those pieces, but lacks the magic midget, the mountain, and the swashbuckling nut. The midget is a loss keenly felt by everyone who sees Lindsay Sparks do something surprisingly dangerous and remembers Hensick/Cammalleri/Comrie et al. But the defensemen… in the defensemen may lie the secret of Michigan's success. Specifically, John Merrill.
Merrill came to Michigan with a ton of hype, surviving as the one member of Michigan's incredibly awesome 2010 recruiting class that arrived on campus with his draft status close to intact. That hype still fell far short of Jack Johnson's, and Merrill hasn't spun past an opposition forward on a routine breakout or murdered three guys on a single shift yet. His dad does not dance during the second intermission, not that anyone would notice if he did these days.
Despite that, Jon Merrill is a about ten times better than Jack Johnson was as a freshman. Johnson was insane even for my tastes. As a freshman he racked up an incredible 149 penalty minutes, most of them due to insane aggression. When it came to penalties Johnson was Tristin Llewellyn on speed, and that extended to the rest of his game. When he wasn't doing something ridiculous, he was doing something ridiculous.
Jon Merrill has four penalty minutes this year. Four! He plays all the time, against the top line, and has as many penalty minutes as Shawn Hunwick. That kind of brilliance only becomes apparent over time. Merrill takes tough situations and handles them elegantly in ways that his senior defense partner doesn't always. (Langlais had a rough first period on Friday.) He's emblematic of the entire corps, which consists of Merrill and Burlon and Langlais and Pateryn not making the sort of mistakes that made my veins throb in years past, or at least not many.
Michigan has always been the hare of college hockey, a high-tempo, high-variance team that racks up goals and penalty minutes. Their assets have always been obvious—that guy who can shoot the puck through a donkey, that first round draft pick. This is not a vintage Michigan team, but what it lacks in JMFJ thunder it may make up for with subtler qualities.
*[By winning percentage. Michigan is a point back of Notre Dame but has two games in hand—with conference wins worth three Michigan actually has a somewhat significant lead. Also if you're down here the next sentence says something about goal differential, by which I mean conference goal differential. Miami is better all things considered.]
Non-Bullets Of Well, Now
Though it's not that different. Michigan's ninth in GPG this year, just a tiny pip behind Miami and North Dakota. Most of the other big scorers are Air Force or locked in the insular (and usually not very good) ECAC, leaving just two teams—BC and Notre Dame—significantly outscoring them. Who knew?
Enter the Moffie. Man, Lee Moffie can sneak them in from the point, can't he? Twice in two games this weekend to go with a couple from his freshman year. If he could just play some defense he'd be in business.
Caveat: in a game earlier this season Moffie was a turnover machine and was subsequently benched for a good long time. He nosed himself ahead of Mac Bennett when Kevin Clare rotated in on Saturday but is liable to collapse.
This years Rolfe Memorial Who-Dat Senior. Will be no surprise, but it's Scooter Vaughn, who scored Saturday to reclaim his spot as the third leading goalscorer on the team behind only Hagelin and Wohlberg.
Pairwise watching, still in vague mode. Michigan moved up one spot to sixth with their sweep. You are now rooting for the Bulldogs to destroy the rest of their schedule; at 11-10-4 they're actually pretty good (11-7-3) when not playing Michigan and if they can nose their way into the top 25 in RPI Michigan's Pairwise comparisons will get a major bump. Ferris is currently 28th.
How bizarre. Michigan hosted a fascinating recruiting visitor on the Michigan State weekend: Max Domi. Yes, that Domi. The younger guy is a highly skilled forward who would be a top pick in the OHL draft if his dad wasn't worried about OHL kids seeing the name on his back and wanting to make a name for themselves. They're making seemingly sincere college noises, but as always with these things it's hard to tell if the interest is real or if it's just posturing for the draft.
Domi's still a couple years from college, FWIW, and won't help fill in the two or three blanks at forward in next years class.
Also bizarre. Miami has the sixth-best goal differential in the country—Michigan is eighth—but finds itself 18th in RPI and outside of the tourney in PWR. Their record isn't very pretty so they must be obliterating teams in their wins and losing narrowly in losses.
Kicking yourself. Michigan's non-wins this year include a tie after being up 4-0 on Mercyhurst, blowing two third period leads against UNH, and two losses in OT. OTOH, they scored with under a minute left to send one of those games to OT and got a tie out of Ferris State via the same Houdini act.
Comment over/under. Twelve, in marked contrast to anything about football these days.