3/14/2014 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 3 (OT) – 17-12-4, 9-8-2 Big Ten
3/15/2014 – Michigan 6, Minnesota 2 – 18-12-4, 10-8-2 Big Ten
Michigan is barely ahead of the pack. [Bill Rapai]
Imagine a man tied to a pole with a bungee cord in zero-G. Grip this man with an enormous metal arm and pull him until the bungee cord has no more give. Let go. Watch as the man flies back and forth at maximum amplitude forever, occasionally bonking his head on the pole.
I've just saved you 500 bucks for a hockey season ticket. You are invited to give me a cut with the donate button at right.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can beat Boston College, they can run out to a 10-2-1 start, they can thoroughly dominate Wisconsin in a weekend series, they can beat Minnesota by sniping the water bottle four times.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State, lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State. They can let Western Michigan waltz, or possibly tango, through the slot a dozen times in a single hockey game. They can try some sort of center-ice pinch that was months ago but still remains crystal-clear in my memory as the most insane decision I've seen since Jack Johnson was around, making insane decisions seem like good ideas.
Yeah, actually. This hockey team is Jack Johnson, the hockey team.
But they have just about done it, with an assist from Minnesota's backup goalie. They have waddled their way into the NCAA tournament. Since they're on the bubble, their tournament starts one weekend early and has a very strange structure where one loss is permissible in most situations as long as it doesn't come against Penn State.
You may think this doesn't quite count. I do. I will be turning on a television at three on a Thursday to watch Michigan play a hockey game in front of 14 people as I try not to have a panic attack. If that's not the NCAA hockey tournament it's close enough.
If—if—if—ifffffffffffff Michigan does in fact get past Penn State, a possibility I am absolutely not taking for granted because this would be like taking a spiderweb for granted as you clung to it over the Grand Canyon, they will be in barring specific clusters of results. And that will be fine. Just making the tournament was everybody's first and only goal in a year when the second defenseman on the depth chart was terrifying—let alone the second pairing—and the goaltender situation was a cloud of question marks.
Even when they were rushing out to a blazing start, nobody who was watching them play was harboring delusions of grandeur. They're rickety on the back end and only flash their talent at forward often enough to drive you crazy when they go a month without scoring a goal on purpose. As the man said, they are who they are.
And since they are who they are—a man careening endlessly from one extreme to the other—they've got as much of a shot as anyone does in the barely-weighted plinko that is the worst championship format in sports. Once their spot is secured they could roll out onto the ice against the top two teams in the country and hold their own, as they did against Minnesota and Boston College.
They could implode in a pile of sawdust, yeah. Everyone can implode in a pile of sawdust. One seeds get plunked on the regular by random collections of initials that happen to have a hockey team. We've got one, and you don't want to face us, no way. Unless it's one of those days where you really do. But it might not be one of those days. It might be one of those other days. Nothing is certain, except that after it is over you will sit down and hold your head and wait for the room to come to a full and complete stop.
We're in! Ish! [Rapai]
Despite being a three seed if the season ended today, Michigan is not safe with a win over Penn State. Unfortunately, there are a number of scenarios that leave them the first team out if they go 1-1 at the Big Ten tourney. That's because the margins are tiny this year. The RPI gap from 11th—where Michigan sits—down to 17th is less than a point.
Michigan can't get passed by #17 Northeastern since they're out of the HE tournament, but Minnesota State, North Dakota, Vermont, Cornell, and Colgate are all within striking distance. All save Vermont are active in their conference tourneys. If Michigan beats Penn State they will finish ahead of the Catamounts; the rest is up for grabs.
Teams are so tightly packed that changing a single result has surprising and inexplicable consequences. In one scenario, Minnesota State beating Ferris in the WCHA final is the difference between MSU-Mankato finishing outside of the tourney or getting a three seed. It also knocks Colgate out as Michigan passes them for obscure opponents-opponents-win-percentage reasons.
But here are some things I can tell you:
Michigan is (almost certainly) safe if they reach the Big Ten final. Even in the worst case scenario where somehow they face MSU and lose to them, thus crushing their RPI along with my skull and providing MSU a bid, they sneak in over the line unless there are two additional bid thieves. If it's Ohio State or Minnesota their RPI will land them as a three seed even in the event of a loss.
They could sneak onto the two line by winning the tournament. A low two is their top end.
1-1 is very likely good enough. It would take some seriously bad luck for every bubble team to man up in the fashion necessary to boot M from the tourney.
0-1 is not over. BUT LET'S NOT EXPLORE THAT OKAY.
Teams you hate. Life gets much, much easier for Michigan if Cornell and Colgate lose their ECAC semifinals to Quinnipiac and Union, respectively. Both of those latter teams are already in. The two C outfits are right on Michigan's heels. Their performance is almost more important than Michigan's—they can get in with a Penn State loss as long as the ECAC results fall right.
Bid thieves are always a bubble team's foe. Those are UNH in Hockey East, BGSU and Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA, Denver, Miami, and WMU in the NCHC, and any Big Ten university with "State" in the name.
Teams you like. Root for North Dakota in the NCHC and Lowell in Hockey East, the former because it's the only current at-large from that league, the latter because every bit of schedule strength is going to count down the stretch here.
Ballpark. Michigan is 99% to make it with a 2-1 record this weekend, 80% to make it with 1-1, and 50% to make it with 0-1.
So frustrating. I kind of get why Minnesota may have relaxed on Saturday after securing the conference title, but it's not like they had nothing to play for. The #1 overall seed gets the Atlantic Hockey opponent that is generally far worse than any other in the field (but will still have a goalie who makes 60 saves because goalies are all far too good these days). BC and Minnesota were competing for that.
It in fact turns out that they had nothing to play for because Boston College got knocked out of the Hockey East tournament, guaranteeing Minnesota the top seed in the tournament.
Minnesota didn't know that on Saturday, though and by the time their backup goalie had ceded his first truly bad goal he'd been beaten on a procession of perfect water-bottle pops that comprised the prettiest set of goals seen in Yost Ice Arena in a long time. And the previous night, when Minnesota was going all out for the title, Michigan played them dead even.
So if they'd done what a team that plays Minnesota dead even does against some of the worst guys on their schedule…
And the avatar of that. Alex Guptill came off his healthy scratch in the aftermath of one of those horrible losses and Got The Message for about the fifth time in his career, playing impressive hockey. Some of the stuff he does is NHL-level.
There was one particular rush on which he repositioned himself in just the proper way so he could snap a shot past the defender's leg. That shot was whistling towards the top of the net before the goalie managed to snag it. It did not go in, but I muttered "Jesus" under my breath because the move and shot were so nasty.
I just hope he doesn't run out of attention before the end of the season here. If he comes back for his senior year—no idea—with the intention of getting an NHL contract for serious he could be a Hobey finalist. Or he could just be the most frustrating player in the last 15 years of Michigan hockey. Enormous wild card.
Sinelli emerging. The crazy thing about Andrew Sinelli these days is that he couldn't manage to find his way onto the ice as a forward during his first two years. He seems so assured with the puck as a defenseman that it's hard to envision him as a healthy scratch. Now that he's settling into his new role he is activating himself on offense more, not only for his hat trick against MSU but also several times in the Minnesota series he found himself in a dangerous position with the puck after making a nice read as to how the play would develop.
Is he Michigan's #2 defenseman now? With Kevin Clare playing his best hockey, probably not… but it's close.
The Hyman breakout. Happy to be right about this:
Inexplicable player enthusiasm of the year. Always one guy on the team who does nothing statistically but I find a way to advocate anyway, and this year it's Zach Hyman. Hyman's 1-2-3 line is obviously bleah. I still manage to think that he's much better at coming out of the corners with a purpose than anyone else on the team and should be flanked by two skilled players to take advantage of his ability to create offense off the cycle.
He seems like a different player, even if the stats aren't showing it. Remember this if he blows up in the next 20 games. Forget it if he doesn't.
After starting out with that 1-2-3 line in 13 games he put up 7-8-15 in his next 21.
Shuart's potential. Max Shuart has a nice combination of size and speed that hasn't really done much in his limited opportunities, but he seems like an intriguing guy to keep an eye on for next year. Could develop into a third line/PK guy.
Post game celebration. Confetti ho.
Morgan's singing voice is not the strong point of his game, but we'll forgive him.
Beilein said he will give away the coach of the year award as a trivia door prize at the radio show.
The first words out his mouth when asked about the award were about Tim Miles; he seemed almost annoyed he'd been handed a plague.
Meanwhile, Nik Stauskas is your Big Ten player of the year, Caris LeVert is second-team All Big Ten, and Derrick Walton is on your all-freshman team. On the snub side of things, Jordan Morgan is passed over for all-defense and Irvin for all-freshman.
It was probably tough for anyone to look at Michigan's defense and provide an all-D nod to them, even if most of the things going on weren't Morgan's deal. Irvin losing out to Purdue's Kendall Stephens is hard to defend since they were the exact same player and Stephens hit 37% of his threes to Irvin's 41%. But whatever, man.
Mmm, foreboding. John Gasaway puts together a list of the top players in college basketball($) that includes one Nik Stauskas, and sums him up from the opponent's point of view well:
At the moment, I'm not sure there's anything else in Division I ball quite like the deep foreboding experienced by opposing fans when the first 3 falls for Stauskas.
He's an Illinois fan, so he may be extrapolating from his most recent Stauskas experience.
Major blow to a contender. Kansas's Joel Embiid has a stress fracture in his back and is a "longshot" for the first weekend of the NCAA tourney. He's just plain out for the Big 12 tourney. If Kansas maintains their spot on the two line the toughest seed they can face before the Sweet 16 is a 7, but they just got beat by WVU in a game that would have been a blowout if WVU could handle a press.
For Michigan, a Kansas loss in the Big 12 tourney helps them in their quest to scoot into a Nova/Wichita region, and possibly Indianapolis. It would at least take a Villanova loss before anyone starts talking about a potential one seed for Michigan.
It's desperation time for hockey. [Bill Rapai]
The other bracket. Michigan is just about hanging on to a spot in the hockey tournament despite their inability to beat some of the worst teams in the country. They are 14th in the Pairwise at this moment; current hockey bracketology has them matched up against Union in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
At 14th, Michigan could withstand one bid thief but not two. There is an extra conference this year, and thus an extra tournament to worry about. At 14th, there's probably a 50-50 shot at a bid. Ferris State is the only WCHA team in the top 16; St. Cloud and North Dakota are the only NCHC teams in the top 16. The ECAC has three teams slated for the tournament, as does the Big Ten. Bid thieves are everywhere.
That's if Michigan maintains its current position. The bad news: this weekend's opponent is an excellent Minnesota team. The good news: a split will be massively helpful thanks to the new quality win bonus. Get swept, though, and Michigan will be either right on the bubble or right outside it.
These are the wages of going 5-4 against Penn State and Michigan State. If Michigan ends up on the outside looking in again, that is 85% of the reason why.
Worst best mascot ever. I see shots of old mascots that seem designed to engender years of nightmares and pine for their return. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology has my back.
His name is Grubby. Seriously. If Dave Brandon could guarantee that hypothetical Michigan mascot would be a homeless Wolverine named "Diseasy" I would support a mascot for M. Alas, it will just be a wolverine in a bread bowl.
Well that's (partially) random then. If you were wondering if student sections could affect free throw shooting, the answer is probably no since Northwestern crushed all comers in this department while MSU finished last.
While most of this looks like random variation, those gaps down to Nebraska and Northwestern are pretty wild. I wonder if that's repeatable. 148 attempts is kind of a lot for that to be totally random.
Next year's schedule. Michigan's preseason tourney next year will take them back to Brooklyn. They'll play a couple of warmup tomato cans at Crisler before taking on one of Villanova, VCU, or Oregon at the Jay Z Center in the "Legends Classic"*. I'd imagine they'll split Michigan and Villanova with the hope the two meet in the final.
*[Which sounds like a fictional tournament hosting Generic State, East University, Ivy Tech, and COLLEGE COLLEGE.]
Well, yeah. By FOIAing the Ann Arbor Police Department, MLive discovers that Michigan's Office Of Institutional Equity asked them for the Gibbons police report in October, which doesn't clarify anything as to when the athletic department knew about what was going down. The most interesting bit of the story is actually a comment from an MLive person:
For context, the Ann Arbor News has been requesting several documents and communications via FOIA from U-M, but they have declined all of our requests citing sections of the Freedom of Information Act that allows U-M "to refrain from disclosing information that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy." We continue to file FOIAs with U-M, but it appears in this case our best bet for information is requesting it from other sources that U-M has communicated with in regards to this case, including the AAPD.
Other FOIA-covered organizations offer up their data. Michigan has a culture of secrecy that has nothing to do with the privacy of individuals, but rather seems to be focused on covering for people who may or may not have screwed up, whether that's in taking four years to act on the Gibbons information or as part of the massive PR debacle that ensued after actually acting.
Etc.: Scouting Jeremy Gallon. McGary and Robinson on list of folks whose draft stock has slipped. Kam Chatman named to one of those basketball all star type things. Lax getting competitive this year. Sloan Sports Analytics conference suffers fate of all things. Jordan Morgan's top moments.
2/21/2014 – Michigan 4, Penn State 5 (OT)
2/22/2014 – Michigan 5, Penn State 2 – 15-10-3, 7-6-1 Big Ten
They did call this. [Bill Rapai]
I just don't know, man. Michigan came out on Saturday and did what they should do to a team with six wins on the season—blow 'em out of the water. On Friday they blew a 3-0 lead, re-took the lead with 2 minutes left, and then proceeded to lose in overtime. That was no fluke. Penn State—the team with zero seniors—put up 40 shots on goal.
Michigan announced that wasn't going to happen again by holding PSU to five shots in the first and then put on the gas in the second. That they did this almost entirely without the services of Mac Bennett, who left the game early in the first period with some sort of arm injury, only reinforces the fact that Friday's effort can only be described with terms ranging from "pathetic" to "sad."
Since last year happened, Friday wasn't the ugliest thing I've seen transpire in Yost. Not by a longshot. It was still a disturbing callback to that grim Tuesday against Bowling Green. There are reasons the team isn't competitive with the Minnesotas of the world, but they don't include whatever Alex Guptill was doing on his shorthanded backcheck Friday. He's the last guy back and barely moves his feet; goal; healthy scratch the next night despite potting a goal that coulda/woulda won the game.
Rumors flew about bad apples last year bringing other folks down, and it seems like not all of them were shed in the offseason. It is a frustrating counterpoint to the basketball team when you see zero development from the vast majority of the upperclassmen.
Who's better this year? Hyman. Bennett. And I guess Sinelli, though it's tough to tell since he wasn't playing D before this year. The drafted forwards are all stuck in neutral, occasionally doing something that flashes their talent but failing to pick up on the reasons Compher and Copp are outdistancing them in points. If not bailed out by the goaltending this year, Michigan would be well adrift of even the tenuous tourney spot they claim now.
Before the season I asserted it would be tough for the guys who don't like to skate to maintain that level of laissez faire because Copp and Compher would force them to act right. That has not been accurate. The guys without buckets of talent play hard; the ones with soft hands float around the perimeter of the ice, and always shoot on two-on-ones.
If the team's going to play like they did Friday with Guptill and like they did Saturday without, it might be time to move on. Unfortunately, Michigan cannot scratch everyone except Compher, Motte, Copp, and Hyman—I have worked this out on paper and there are not enough people—so they'll have to skate some frustrating guys. Nailing the king of coasting to the bench at least sends a message about, you know, trying when the puck's not on your stick.
Pairwise update, AKA RPI update. Michigan's RPI survived the series at Minnesota because Minnesota's real good at the RPI now downplays road games you lose. It did not do so well after the Penn State split. Michigan is 14th, which is right on the cutline. At the end of the year whoever's in that spot is watching the conference tournament results in a panic.
I know I said they were in good shape, but they blew a rather comfortable margin over their current spot with two losses to a team with four other wins on the year. Given the difficulty of the schedule they're facing, they are probably okay if they go 4-2 down the stretch, but that requires either sweeping the next two weekends (home and homes against Ohio State and Michigan State) or taking something off Minnesota.
Given how they're playing, I bet Michigan goes into that Minnesota series really needing a split. Old Yost would know something like this and be a-rage. New Yost will probably not.
Hyman's point totals are beginning to match his play. [Bill Rapai]
It's happening. Zach Hyman was out there being impossible to take the puck off of on the boards and generating chances off the cycle for the whole season; he was still stuck on like three points. That has changed as Michigan pairs him with guys like Motte and occasionally Compher. He is on a five game point streak and has a 2-4-6 line over the past three weekends; he's now up to 14 points, nipping on the heels of the guys in the second group of scorers behind Compher and Copp.
The Kile check. It looked bad live but on the GIF you can tell that the contact is not severe and happens at the dot. A two minute penalty to be sure, but didn't rise to the level of (another) five and a game.
The check on Bennett. A hard check directly to Bennett's chest where the opponent stopped striding well before the hit; clean. No idea why Bennett was not aware of the guy coming in; someone's got to yell at him about it.
Bennett is out this weekend, making it hard for Michigan against a decent OSU team with a somewhat fearsome back line. He may be back the week after.
SOUNDS ENCOURAGING. Oy.
Michigan OL coach Darrell Funk says young linemen must move forward, 'we don't have any choice'
I already bombarded you with grim news about the OL yesterday, so I'll forgo that today.
Ten second impact: minimal. Patrick Vint went back to a few games of a hyperspeed nature to find out how many penalties would have been issued if you couldn't snap the ball until 29 seconds were left on the shot clock. Answer: a few. Auburn would have gotten hit four times in the Alabama game, presumably just by a second or two. It's really hard to get a play off within ten seconds of the previous one's end.
It still seems virtually guaranteed that the rule won't pass; even if it does it's not a huge shift in the game.
Stats by conference. They now exist on Kenpom and validate the steep drop in shot-making you have probably perceived in Big Ten games this year. The league is 30th of 32 leagues in eFG%. They're also 28th in FT rate. Even last year's Best League Ever was 28th and 25th in those metrics, but in 2012 the B10 was 8th in eFG.
The moral here is probably that these margins are very thin. The difference between the top power conference in eFG, the Big East, and the bottom, the SEC, is about two percentage points. IE, you'd see one extra make in 50 Big East shots.
One other notable thing: home dominance has plummeted this year. Home teams are at a 55% clip compared to 64% last year and 62% the year before. That's a big ol' swing.
The other side of the pit. Bill Connelly's OL stats applied to the defensive line reveal that Michigan was slightly below average at rushing the passer, good at preventing runs of more than five yards, and bad at holding up in short yardage and getting TFLs.
IE: their defensive line was bad. That's not a huge surprise given the obvious things like playing former WDEs at nose tackle and the still-inexplicable absence of Quinton Washington.
It's not good. Gasaway's Tuesday Truths have one over-arching truth for Michigan fans:
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM 1. Iowa 8-4 68.5 1.13 1.00 +0.13 2. Michigan St. 10-3 63.7 1.10 0.98 +0.12 3. Wisconsin 8-5 62.9 1.12 1.03 +0.09 4. Michigan 10-3 61.8 1.15 1.07 +0.08 5. Ohio St. 7-6 63.7 1.02 0.97 +0.05 6. Minnesota 6-7 62.9 1.06 1.07 -0.01 7. Purdue 5-7 64.7 0.99 1.03 -0.04 8. Indiana 4-8 64.9 0.97 1.02 -0.05 9. Nebraska 6-6 63.9 0.96 1.02 -0.06 10. Penn St. 4-9 66.2 0.99 1.08 -0.09 11. Illinois 3-10 63.8 0.94 1.04 -0.10 12. Northwestern 5-8 60.9 0.88 1.02 -0.14 AVG. 64.1 1.03
That is: they are the worst defense in the league save for Penn State.
Oh no. Please don't. No one else can possibly wear a suit. Iowa's athletic director preserves the Big Ten's most precious tradition: making grandiose promises to quit if players get a larger slice of the revenue pile.
Barta suggests a pay-to-play system would force schools to put a monetary value on the different levels of competition in all collegiate sports.
"And I'll probably choose to do something else for a living if we ever had to go that route because it's so complex," Barta says. "Do you pay the Division III football player as an employee? Do you pay the tennis student athlete as an employee?"
I should probably be his replacement because I can figure out those two answers immediately: no, and no. Neither is involved in economic activity for their school since their programs are not making money and are therefore charity cases instead of employees.
[HT: Get the Picture.]
Defensive rotation. With Michael Downing and Andrew Sinelli both suspended for Friday's game after hits to the head against the Gophers, Michigan really needs some help. They will get it in the form of Kevin Lohan, who returns from injury after missing 19 games. Mike Chiasson will also draw in to a struggling blue line. Also returning is Alex Guptill and his wildly varying levels of involvement.
Etc.: Women's gymnastics beats Nebraska to take the Big Ten lead. Softball kicks off their season with a 4-1 trip. Dee Hart booted from Alabama for a pot possession charge. Lists of top recruiting classes over long periods of time always point out Michigan as a good recruiting school that sucks despite the recruiting; there really needs to be a recruiting + attrition study.
I haven't been doing hockey previews this year because hockey kind of evaporated there for a long time and when it came back I didn't want to pick up the baton again just to tell you the things you could learn by going to the team page of opponent X on College Hockey Stats. So I'm going to morph this into a status update/preview thing with a new format. A work in progress.
[At right: an understandably perplexed Red Berenson. Bill Rapai photo]
|WHAT||Michigan at Minnesota|
Friday: 9 PM Eastern
Saturday: 8 PM Eastern
|LINE||college hockey lines, junkie?|
State Of The Bid
State Of The Pairwise
The Pairwise rankings got revamped in the offseason, yet again. Like the BCS rankings, each iteration drops more and more stuff until you're left with something simple but unsatisfying. This iteration dumped the "teams under consideration" factor entirely. Now everyone is under consideration, even Michigan State.
The only factors left:
- head to head
- common opponents
Since RPI breaks all ties, Pairwise comparisons against teams you haven't played devolve to a straight RPI comparison. The only way for the PWR to deviate from straight RPI is for you to be –2 in head to head or lose head to head and common opponents. This happens once in Michigan's 58 comparisons, as Michigan's grim loss to Western in the GLI lets their superior COP play. But since the tiebreaker for tied teams is the individual comparison, and the tiebreaker for multiple tied teams is RPI the only way that hurts Michigan is if Western is one of the teams right next to them in the standings.
Nowadays, PWR == RPI to a 95% confidence. At this instant the PWR follows RPI to the letter save for Colgate ranking in front of Maine.
So it's kind of dumb now, because RPI is dumb. But it was kind of dumb before, what with teams popping above or below an arbitrary cutoff point radically altering the standings up until the last day of the season*. Meanwhile, the RPI is different but perhaps equally as dumb this year, as an attempt to reform it brought about these changes:
- Road wins and home losses are weighted by a factor of 1.2; Road losses and home wins are weighted by a factor of 0.8.
- Points get added for "quality" wins against the top 20 according to RPI.
It seems like the first change is an effort to prevent Big Ten teams from larding their 14 nonconference games with a ton of home outings. In the NHL, teams get about 55% of their points at home. There is some advantage to balance, but the change seems to make the system as biased in favor of the road team as it was in favor of the home team.
Meanwhile, the quality win bonus is the kind of thing you find stapled on to systems people know don't work but are trying to ad-hoc themselves into something that looks like it works right. The upshot of that change is that you'd rather beat Wisconsin and lose to Penn State than vice versa, and hey look maybe the team already knows this. Do they know that you'd rather beat both Penn State and Wisconsin? Someone tell them this.
Right. So now…
*[WORTHLESS ASIDE: Back in the days when I could stand the USCHO message boards there was one guy who responded to all the valid complaints about the volatility of the PWR system by claiming that the system was not volatile because it only existed on the day the field was selected. Eventually it became clear that this was not the guy being willfully obtuse. He actually believed this.
He had something like 100k posts by the time I left, and is probably heading towards a million now. In other news, a virus that wiped the hard drives of everyone who had posted on USCHO in the past year would increase the average IQ of the internet by 20%.]
State Of The Bid
RPI is everything now; Michigan is tenth in RPI and tenth in the PWR, which would have them comfortably in as a three-seed. Michigan has a comfortable gap over the #11 team in RPI; they're closer to 6th than 11th.
Unfortunately, the RPI changes have blown up the exceedingly useful Sioux Sports feature that would let you know approximately what your RPI would be if you won X of your remaining Y games, because that's impossible to predict with the quality win bonuses.
Michigan has just one team with any of those win bonuses on tap, but they're big ones: Minnesota. Four games against the currently #2 RPI team in the country offer the potential of reward if Michigan can even split; meanwhile a home series at Penn State is a minefield waiting to happen, as is a home and home with dismal MSU. OSU is in the middle. Eyeballing it, 6-4 down the stretch would probably be good enough to keep them in the tourney as long as they got something off of the Gophers.
On the positive end, short of doing something like take three from the Gophers and run the table the rest of the way, a one-seed is out of the question. Moving up to a two is very doable; as mentioned, a couple of bumps the right way in the PWR and they'll be the top #2.
State Of The Hockey
You tell me, man. Michigan followed a grim four-game skid with a sweep of MSU that was filled with fortunate bounces and even gameplay, and playing MSU even is really bad news. Then they swarm Wisconsin, unfortunate to not sweep the Badgers one weekend before they sweep the Gophers. Everything's going just peachy after a 7-3 win against Penn State on Friday, and then… splat.
Saturday's 4-0 loss to Penn State was alarming on multiple levels. Nagelvoort gave up two awful bad angle goals that squeezed through his five hole, and all of a sudden it was last year all over again.
The only thing we've learned about this year's team is nothing. On an individual level you've got certain guys performing and certain guys not; on a week-to-week basis you could get anything from a throat-crushing of a top-ten team to one million unchecked guys running through your own slot.
Nieves is the modern day Milan Gajic.
There are two primary issues: lack of production from Michigan's cadre of highly touted, veteran scoring-line wings and the defense. These have been the issues all year, and they are compounding as the year progresses. Boo Nieves is stuck on one goal; Phil Di Giuseppe has five. Guptill is doing a bit better, but the team has exactly one player cracking a PPG, JT Compher.
The team struggles immensely to generate scoring chances at even strength. I'm not sure if it's a lack of confidence or effort, but watching every rush end with a shot from the top of the circle is beginning to wear, as is Michigan's total inability to complete a pass on a two on one. The skill guys on this roster don't have much in the way of skill. Meanwhile, the offensive ability of the defensive corps can be summed up like so: Kevin Clare (career goals: 3) is one of two D who play on the power play.
The defense kind of is what it is. We knew that it was going to be shaky going in, and then Kevin Lohan got knocked out for most of the season. Not getting even one player in the all-conference discussion from Guptill/Di Giuseppe/Nieves/Moffatt is what's really hurting Michigan. The days when a random nondescript forward became an impact player as a junior/senior seem pretty far away.
But all I wanted them to do at the beginning of the year is make the tourney and they're on track to do that.
You just got Skjei'd. No, I don't know how to pronounce it either.
Minnesota is perennially packed with talent and occasionally plays like it; this is one of those years. Despite the sweep last weekend they're still locked into a one seed at 19-4-5. Both of those losses were 2-1 affairs in which Minnesota outshot Wisconsin, in one case badly. Their sole other losses were at Notre Dame and against UMD; they have had inexplicable difficulty with MSU, going 2-0-2 with two one-goal wins.
There is no one scoring star. Minnesota has nobody averaging a PPG. They do have piles and piles of depth, with five guys over 20 points already and four more over 16. They roll three true scoring lines.
If there is a star, it's a guy who is nowhere to be found on point lists: defenseman Brady Skjei. (Skjei is somehow pronounced "Shea," in case you're wondering where this Skedge guy is on the broadcast.) Shea, a sophomore, was a first round pick last offseason and was the cornerstone of the World Junior defense corps. He's got size, strength, and defensive skill. He is legit.
Goaltending has been excellent, with sophomore Adam Wilcox a true #1—his backup has 84 minutes on the season. He's got a .930, which places in him a tie for 11th with Nagelvoort*.
Michigan's six points back of the Gophers and can tie for the conference lead with a sweep. Good luck with that. For RPI/tourney purposes, a split would be super.
*[Expand the nets. There are 12 out of 82 qualifying goalies with a .930, 28 with a .920, 47 with a .910, and a whopping 62 with a .900. Goalies are too good.]
Penn State on the docket. Michigan goes to Happy Valley for their first-ever games against the nascent Nittany Lion program. As you might expect, Penn State is not particularly good. They're 4-17-1 on the season, 0-8 in the league, and have been outscored 35-13 in those eight games.
They've had some close outings, including one-goal losses to Minnesota and Boston College in January; they're still real bad. Not a huge surprise when they have zero seniors. Goaltending is a major issue, with both platoon-mates under .900; leading scorer Eric Scheid has a 10-5-15 line.
Michigan needs to sweep this series if they're going to maintain any hopes of winning the league. That door opened up a bit yesterday when Wisconsin beat Minnesota 2-1. Michigan can draw within six, or even three, points if they keep the Nittany Lions on the mat.
Hyman making a move. I'd pumped him up a bit earlier this year, but the points did not follow. Nowadays, though, Zach Hyman's centering a line that can be reasonably described as "his" and they are performing:
With Hyman centering the third line between freshman Tyler Motte and senior Luke Moffatt, the performance of all three players has quickly escalated. Hyman and his linemates combined for four goals in two games against Wisconsin last weekend and supplied high energy in the offensive zone.
Hyman scored one of those goals, a Kaleniecki special where he blasted in a rebound from the edge of the crease. He's been near-impossible to bump off the puck on the cycle all year and hopefully now he can maintain some scoring production over the rest of the season.
Firing, firing, firing. Via Five Key Plays, Zak Irvin making it rain:
Scouting Stauskas. NBA scouts, this video starts at 8:35. Before that it's just Golden Girls reruns.
It's time to eat (a low-carb diet high in protein). Derrick Green seems to have acquired the message about being smaller and nimbler, and is tweeting out pictures of how much he weighs.
my grind is never gone stop!! 220 by spring ball! Its time to eat 〽️ pic.twitter.com/qIghb24Ya6
— BaN€™〽️ (@DG2seven) February 5, 2014
May he reach 220 by spring and leave corpses in his wake in fall. But fun corpses!
Obligatory signing day articles. Did you know that not every highly-ranked recruit works out? Well, they don't. Also, sometimes low-ranked guys do. Now prepare for the parade of quotes from players and coaches saying they don't care about rankings. Are you prepared?
“I don’t put much stock in (the star-rating system),” Hoke said.
“I think it’s a joke,” Mueller said. “I believe there’s some talented guys, and it’s obvious to point out who the elite college football players are coming out of high school, but there are a lot of guys who get overlooked.
“I do not think it really does anything for any of the college coaches — the star system at least. The kids themselves and parents, it’s more of a headache."
Sorry. You cannot be prepared for that much quote. Anyway, annual article from newspaper about how recruiting rankings are not right every single time is matched by Matt Hinton's annual article in which he comes up with a new way to show that, yes, recruiting rankings are generally predictive.
It's a landslide. On the final count, the higher-ranked team according to the recruiting rankings won roughly two-thirds of the time, and every "class" as a whole had a winning record against every class ranked below it every single year. (The only exception came last year, when "three-star" teams came up short in head-to-head meetings with "one-star" teams. Otherwise, the hierarchy held across every line.) The gap on the field also widened with the gap in the recruiting scores: While "one-star" recruiting teams fared slightly better against blue-chip opponents than "two-star" teams, both groups combined managed a grand total of 19 wins over "five-star" opponents in 112 tries. Broadly speaking, the final results on the field broke along a straight line demarcated on signing day.
There are outliers, of course. Michigan is likely one in a bad direction, but Hinton only picked out those who are outperforming. They include most recent opponent Kansas State, which takes so many JUCOs they are near-impossible to rank reasonably, and Michigan State. Which sigh.
If you were really in charge you wouldn't have to keep saying you're in charge. This is, in fact, an article from this week:
Brady Hoke: I'm running Michigan football program, not Dave Brandon
This is from the press-conference-type substance. Speaking of that…
Usual PR debacles. The odd "press conference" that blew up into a bunch of finger-wagging once the Daily complained about not being there was less a press conference and more five requested one-on-one interviews crammed into a brief, mutual window:
“We did not hold a press conference (Monday),” Ablauf said Tuesday. “Five reporters requested to meet with Brady to discuss football topics, so we arranged this meeting about three weeks ago and set the meeting day and time over a week ago (prior to publication of the Daily story about Gibbons).”
But when five different reporters start tweeting out things Brady Hoke is saying, it looks like a press conference. And when you release the statement about the Gibbons thing that stands as the only thing you're going to say about that topic to five hand-picked reporters, that looks horrible.
Michigan actually did something about a sexual assault on campus that they didn't have to do—unlike, say, Florida State. That they managed to come out of that looking like they do is miraculously bad PR.
Unfortunately, it's not a surprise. This space has been sarcastically declaring "it's almost like the athletic department didn't think things through" jabs for the past year as one bad idea after another was rolled out and quickly rolled back. This is the culmination of the tiny debacles with noodles and seat cushions and the band going to Dallas and not preparing Mary Sue Coleman to speak in a situation with feedback. The same shitty attitude towards everyone outside of the Circle Of Trust from the past few years finally got applied to something important, and now Dave and company are receiving their just desserts.
Hopefully they'll learn something this time.
Uh-huh. The annual Detroit News Blue Chip list generally comes with at least one salty remark about Michigan or MSU, and this year's winner is MSU commit Nick Padla on Michigan:
They talked about tradition (but) I was thinking about the future.
The previous sentence also might have something to do with it:
They were recruiting me my 10th grade then kind of stopped.
Etc.: Enormous piles of NBA data could lead to a holy grail stat to end all stats, but it'll take supercomputers to produce it. Stat updates on Michigan's hockey recruits. Everything you ever wanted to know about Derrick Walton's efficiency leap.