1/27/2011 – Michigan 61, Michigan State 57 – 12-9, 2-6 Big Ten
left two Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
A couple years ago Michigan fans were wondering if they really had something or if an unexpected win against UCLA was just a one-off when they took on Duke in Crisler arena. Michigan won that game, and the moment I remember most was Zack Novak holding his follow-through an ostentatiously long time. He'd just hit a three pointer to push Michigan well in front that sent Crisler into honest-to-God hysterics. It was an ungritty thing to do, but if anyone can justify a little flash now and then it's Zack Novak.
Yesterday Novak had what can only be described as a leadership aneurysm. It was the grittiest twitchy, alarming fit anyone's ever had. MSU fans rushed to put it on the internet the better to mock him by:
This worked out about as well as painting "1,181" across your hairless, AXE-laden chests.
You know this, but: 6 of 8 from three, 19 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and various dogged things that don't show up in the box score but contribute to the bottom line. In the aftermath of the game David Merritt tweeted something about how if you question Zack Novak's importance to the team you "don't understand team sports*". That and math.
Because Michigan followed up a series of promising performances against elite teams with road duds against Indiana and Northwestern, beating Michigan State won't mean anything outside of the thing itself. Michigan's not likely to get even an NIT bid because of the win. Before my fiancée fell asleep for the second half she remarked that even though Michigan was in front "they make everything seem so hard," and they do.
Michigan is aimless. The announcers kept talking about Michigan taking a lot of time off the shot clock like that was a special strategy for this game when they're almost as slow (327th) as they are young (337th) and played at the exact same pace against South Carolina Upstate. When it's going well they're "deliberate," but to my eyes it's a team that doesn't really know what it's doing. They're forced to improvise when time gets low after chucking it around the perimeter for 20 seconds. It's almost exactly what Amaker teams did down to pulling the big out of the lane to provide a low-threat passing option as the ball cycles around the three point line.
The most eye-opening section of the season was the first half against Northwestern, when the Wildcats team ran a series of intricate cuts that opened up Michigan's defense for a rain of open threes and drives into the lane against mis-positioned defenders:
Michigan gets a lot of that from Darius Morris but Northwestern gets it from all over. Morris has an astronomic assist rate but if you compare the teams there are seven(!) Wildcats between him and Stu Douglass, Michigan's #2 guy. Despite the hype about Beilein, right now Michigan's offense boils down to "do something, Darius."
Fortunately for Michigan, Darius Morris has proven pretty good at not only that but twisting down the lane and getting awkward shots to fall. He was somehow 5 of 8 from inside the arc despite his teammates assisting on zero of his buckets; most of those were Dion Harris-style "well, someone has to put it up" buckets while swarmed in the lane. Combine that with near 50% three-point shooting and a you've got the recipe for an upset.
You don't have something sustainable to go back to the rest of the season.
Michigan's going to get better the rest of the way, but it might be hard to tell because of noise. They'll probably even get better more quickly than more experienced teams. IE, all teams. They still won't be very good. That's okay. Beating Michigan State at Breslin hasn't happened since I was a freshman in college—JESUS—and while it's very Sparty to say they can pack it in the rest of the year and there will still be some satisfaction from the season, it's also true. As a self-contained thing it is the best of all basketball things.
In the larger picture it's just one of those games when Colton Christian hits an 18-footer as the shot clock expires. They happen. Where this game gives hope is for the offseason, when Zack Novak will call for a captain's practice and the his teammates will remember he was the man who sprayed gore all over the Breslin Center and showed Michigan State it was theirs.
*[He also mentioned that he used to throw "Office" quotes back and forth with Douglass.]
Non-bullets and whatnot
Not a vintage MSU team. At some point in early in the game a goofy white guy did something bad and I was about to kick something when I realized he was playing for Michigan State. Late in the first half I was wondering why the goofy white guy never came off the floor when the announcers mentioned his name, which was a different name, and I looked at their numbers and they were different too and it dawned on me that there were two goofy white guys who only did bad things splitting 40 minutes of playing time. One of them was an elf who bakes cookies.
It was at this point hope dawned.
Novak and Stu as reasons for Beilein hope. They're obviously better than Smotrycz on a possession-to-possession "oh God, what was that?" level, and I'd throw in Hardaway and his addiction to chucking up not-very-good shots in there too. Novak and Douglass were just as shaky as freshmen. Douglass had the same disease Hardaway does. Now they have the best eFG% on the team excepting easy-bucket machine Jordan Morgan. Douglass was a conscience free gunner his first couple years; now his usage rate is in the "limited roles" category and his three point percentage is a point short of 40%.
If Hardaway and Smotrycz can advance at the same pace they can be those guys plus three inches each. I'm relatively serene about Beilein's bulletproof status because his recruiting's improved tremendously, the team would be a lot different if Robin Benzing and Ben Cronin hadn't flamed out, and it's at least worth checking out what will happen next year when experience goes from almost dead last nationally (337 of 345) to approximately middle-of-the pack. If you add a year of experience to everyone they'd be in a huge multi-way tie for 126th, but that's generous because Michigan will play Burke and Brundidge.
Beilein's already earned next year, and when they take the inevitable step forward in '11-'12 he'll get year six, and that's got at least a decent chance of working out.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., please report to the lost and found. We have found your conscience. Please re-insert it and stop leading the team in three-pointers attempted despite only hitting 30% of them. He's got a higher percentage of shots while he's on the floor than Morris does, which is kind of amazing. Michigan would be better if he got that usage down to around 20%. I'm sure, like Stu, that he'll learn.
The strange thing about Smotrycz. Does anyone else think his best defense is played in the post? This isn't really a compliment—he's probably the worst defensive player on the team, constantly getting lost. But when Michigan goes tiny they have him defend the five and I can't remember thinking "this has to stop" during any of those long stretches.
Seriously. Someone at The Only Colors complained about my characterization of the streak guys as "meatheads." Seriously?
You can seriously look at those guys and envision them doing anything other than slather each other in AXE as they recite "Sex Panther" quotes back and forth to each other before heading out to a kegger where they are totally going to get laid, or at least slapped?
This has something to do with the juggalos post in the aftermath of the football game this fall, but here I was just making an observation about five guys with spotlessly hair-free chests whooping like monkeys. Michigan has meatheads enrolled. I met plenty. It was not a shot at anyone except the jinx-bringers.
Also, seriously: juggalos in Ann Arbor last fall. Seriously. Never been that bad, even when OSU fans were 30k strong for the 2009 Game. This is because the OSU fans who showed up were the kind that went to the game instead of just hanging out for an opportunity to take out their insecurities. Dozens of Michigan fans have told me this, a good chunk before the post even went up.
Well, that's one streak of days stretching into the thousands down. Bonus for those five gloating meatheads ESPN showed at every opportunity: the guys who painted "1" on their chest don't have to change anything to be accurate tomorrow as long as they sit separately. The "8" guy will have to sit at home and cry for a week.
And you can't have one without the other…
|WHAT||Michigan v. #25 Michigan State|
|WHERE||East Lansing, MI|
7:00 PM EST
January 27th, 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan +10.5|
After a surprisingly strong start to the season Michigan was riding high at 10-2 and some of the more optimistic fans (yours truly included) were predicting a finish on the NCAA bubble. A win over Penn State and blowout losses to Purdue and Wisconsin - both on the road - didn't change the equation much. Close losses to #2 Kansas and #1 Ohio State in Crisler Arena gave further hope.
Then it all came crashing down. A previously solid Michigan defense was exposed in road debacles against Indiana and Northwestern, dropping from the top 20 nationally to the worst in Big Ten play. Jordan Morgan says "we thought our defense was good just because it was good, but really it was the hard work we were putting in." The team needs to get back to focusing on defensive play, rather than expecting the success to come.
Of course, Michigan's season - as painfully as it's unfolded - can't be looked at as a disaster, because there were almost no expectations coming in. That's not the case for the other side.. The Spartans have failed to live up to the usual hefty expectations--unfair though they may have been. Michigan State has dropped to an UNACCEPTABLE #25 national ranking (John Beilein: "That's not struggling"), and the perception is that they're reeling.
The perception isn't helped by the recent suspension of Korie Lucious for the remainder of the season. Though Lucious hasn't started any games this season, he's playing starter minutes (4th on the team in minutes/game) and was leading the Spartans in assist rate. He didn't accomplish much in two games against Michigan last year, but he's played a bigger role for the Spartans in 2010-11.
And of course, what would a Michigan-Michigan State basketball game be without the Rivalry Factor? Indiana native Zack Novak said "I hate them as much as people who have been here their whole lives," though his fellow Hoosier expatriate Stu Douglass backs off a bit, saying "I wouldn't call it hate." Either way, the Spartans have owned this "rivalry", winning every game since that duo has been in Ann Arbor. It's been over 10 years since Michigan has won in the Breslin Center (or even kept it to single digits), and Michigan is going to have to break their run of poor form if they want to end that streak.
With a few games under each team's belt, it's finally reasonable to look at the stats. If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Michigan State: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||State Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. MSU Def eFG%||107||75||S|
|Mich Def eFG% v. MSU eFG%||164||111||S|
|Mich TO% v. MSU Def TO%||21||210||MM|
|Mich Def TO% v. MSU TO%||232||201||S|
|Mich OReb% v. MSU DReb%||303||84||SSS|
|Mich DReb% v. MSU OReb%||58||32||S|
|Mich FTR v. MSU Opp FTR||342||159||SS|
|Mich Opp FTR v. MSU FTR||61||219||MM|
|Mich AdjO v. MSU AdjD||70||18||S|
|Mich AdjD v. MSU AdjO||76||50||S|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
The advantages for Michigan State come where you'd expect: rebounding and not sending Michigan to the free thrown line. Sparty's not the exceptional rebounding team they've been in the past, but early rebounding competency from the Wolverines has faded as the schedule has gotten tougher, and Michigan has gone with Evan Smotrycz at the 5 more frequently.
All said, this isn't the statistical nightmare on paper that I've come to expect from these contests. Though Michigan has had at least their share of struggles, State is in a similar boat, albeit against tougher competition.
One key will be for MIchigan's bigs to stop committing silly fouls. Jordan Morgan said, "I'm learning from a lot of mistakes I've made," but learning means very little if it's not applied in game situations. Foul trouble among the bigs must be avoided, as State's Draymond Green and Delvon Roe are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Spartans' talent in the frontcourt. Another key is to defend Michigan State's athletes, and prevent the Spartans from getting up and down the court in transition, and getting into the lane on drives from the likes of Kalin Lucas. That can be a tall task, as even John Beilein admits that Michigan's quickness is a weakness.
Rivalry games mean lots of coverage across the internets:
- Dylan asks questions of KJ from The Only Colors.
- KJ returns the favor, and TOC's Pete does the same with Remember Bo of Maize n Brew.
- MSM coverage from AnnArbor.com, the Free Press, and the Detroit News.
- Finally, game previews from TOC and from UMHoops.
At least one Wolverine fouls out, more likely two. I'll guess Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr. Darius Morris picks up his play, though not to early-season levels. He finishes in double digits scoring, and is close in assists. The Wolverines will come closer than they have in a long time, but still fall in Breslin, 76-68.
Is this inane or brilliant? Like all the best newspaper headlines, I can't tell if this News editor is serious or making a terribly sly joke:
New names add flair to Big Ten for next season
Flair you say?
The awful periwinkle logo does look like it belongs on a button that says "my other car is the incorrect belief I have a sense of humor."
Oddly, multiple readers have emailed to inform that the agency who put together this debacle is "highly respected." I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around a marketing firm named "Pentagram," which seems deliberately mom-terrifying and reminds me of Dan Akroyd in goat leggings and generally seems like a thing you should avoid if you don't want to give off the wrong impression.
Meanwhile, the public loves it:
According to an unscientific poll on ChicagoTribune.com, 6 percent believe Legends and Leaders "represent what the Big Ten is all about," and 94 percent say, "You have to be kidding … is this the best they can do?"
Similarly, 93 percent of those responding to a midwestsportsfans.com poll voted for either "terrible" or "it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon." Others opted for "awesome" (2 percent) or "indifferent" (5 percent).
94%! You can't get 94% of people to condemn murdering six year olds these days. In two weeks all FAIL pictures on the internet will have been mysteriously replaced by images of Jim Delany.
The count. They announced 113,411 at the Big Chill by adding up every single person who was there and counting Red Berenson as six because obviously, but when Guinness sits down to actually put a number in the book it will be considerably smaller than that because they take a more restrictive view on what counts as a spectator:
The school counts players, media and others at the game to work. Guinness doesn’t count any of those people.
"It's a combination of scans with the barcodes on tickets," Janela said, explaining how Guinness reaches its number. "It's not for tickets sold but for people who actually show up. People who weren’t ticketed, marching band for instance, or people who were given special passes."
Media and players, he said, do not count in the numbers because they are not actually spectators of the game.
UPDATE: Wow. Guinness says the actual count was 85,451, which seems low.
Also from that article, a ref skated over to the Michigan bench after the Wohlberg extra-point celebration and said any more funny business would result in a penalty and Rick Comley said it was "uncalled for." The NFL infects all.
Speaking of. A reader emails that the XP is not lost to history:
I also broke a cardinal rule of game columns by not checking my feed before posting, so I missed an extensive WH highlight package:
Casteel Watch. Jeff Casteel remains the most plausible defensive coordinator candidate out there, having established a level of performance with the 3-3-5 that's become as impressive as Rodriguez's WVU offenses were. That level is "really impressive… for the Big East." Even with that BE caveat, WVU's defense is #1 in FEI this year and equally impressive in conventional metrics. The three years before this they were 33rd, 28th, and 8th. I'd be willing to roll with Rodriguez again if the band got back together.
Unfortunately, after two swings and misses the chances of that are miniscule unless Bill Stewart whittles on down that road. Fortunately, there are machinations afoot in Morgantown, with Oklahoma State OC Dana Holgorsen heavily rumored to be taking the job after Stewart coaches the bowl game*. Though a Smoking Musket rumor that Stewart was out was refuted on the twitters by multiple players, actual newspapers are saying that may be a matter of timing:
Sources confirmed today that a high-ranking official from West Virginia's athletic department has been in contact with Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen about the head coaching position at West Virginia, even as there is no vacancy. …
A source confirmed it is probable Stewart will be fired if West Virginia does not win that bowl game, and could happen regardless of the outcome. A win in the bowl game would give the Mountaineers a 10-win season.
It's possible Holgorsen would look at the defensive side of the ball and decide that he shouldn't fix what isn't broken but the chances of landing Casteel go from zero to non-zero if Stewart gets the boot. Let's hope NC State wins 3-0.
UDPATE: Newspaper type folk are reporting that Holgorsen is in as OC/coach in waiting and will replace Stewart after next year without touching the defensive coaching staff. Dangit.
*(Is it just me or are there an inordinate number of coaches in limbo this year? Usually it's fire and forget immediately after the regular season, but this year the coaching carousel has a number of schools half in, half out.)
Darius as mini-Denard part two. Way back on Friday Michigan dismantled Utah in an 11-point game that wasn't really as close as that, and people are beginning to pick up on Darius Morris's leap forward. Someone was asking about surprise teams on the most recent Big Ten conference call and both Tom Crean and Matt Painter cited Michigan, with Painter specficially mentioning Morris as the reason. Big Ten Geeks:
Darius Morris led the way with 19 points to go with 10 assists, and it’s hard to ignore his play so far this season. A role player last year, Morris has become much more assertive in running the offense. This is actually somewhat of an exception--role players don’t suddenly start consuming possessions over an offseason in general--but one should keep in mind that with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims monopolizing the offense last season, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for Morris. It’s been a different story in his sophomore season, as Morris is quickly becoming one of the Big Ten’s best floor generals. He’s shooting an amazing (for a 6-4 guard) 61 percent from 2-point range, along with one of the best assist rates in the country.
At times in the Utah game the problem with the offense seemed to be Morris's lack of assertiveness—most of Michigan's worst possessions saw him with limited time on the ball.
If Morris is shooting 61% from two he's probably not shooting enough, which is an interesting problem to have. Last year Manny Harris was sucking up 30% of Michigan's possessions while shooting 48% inside the three-point line. The rest of the team shot at a higher clip, and while that was because Harris drew so much attention I often felt like the team would have been better if the shots were more evenly distributed.
This year Morris is killing people; the rest of the team is doing well but can't keep up. Major SOS caveats apply, but I think I'd like to see Morris try to get a few more shots off per game. A complicating factor is Morris's assist rate, which is fifth nationally—a major reason he's not getting off more shots is he's turning Jordan Morgan into a 61% shooter, too.
Speaking of Morgan, he bounced back from a couple of rough outings with solid, annoying post defense against Utah's bigs, who are very big indeed. UMHoops grabbed a sequence in which he took a couple offensive fouls:
I wish they'd also clipped the possession before that, in which Morgan went to war with Foster for the duration of the possession and eventually got an elbow to the head for his troubles. The ref let that go but was looking for any funny stuff on the next trip and got it when a pissed-off Foster barged into him. Foster's not any good offensively—his usage rate is an amazing 8.9%—but he also did a good job on Washburn, and this year I think all we're looking for out of Morgan is holding his own against the mediocre and beating the bad.
Morgan drew a third charge with help defense later, but since he was 1) moving and 2) directly underneath the basket in the pretend no-charge circle the NCAA instituted last year that was positive reinforcement of a negative play Michigan got lucky on.
OH SO TINGLY. I may not be a fan of Michigan Stadium hosting dancing curly fries but some of the things Dave Brandon is plotting are major compensations:
Q: You also have talked about new scoreboards for Michigan Stadium. Your vision is not Cowboys Stadium huge, but pretty huge?
A: Pretty huge. If you picture the size of those (current) scoreboards and maybe something that's 30 percent larger, 40 percent larger, but then the entire surface or at least the vast majority of the surface would be video screen. I think those scoreboards look wimpy now with this structure and then the fact the HD video portion is only about a third of the surface. We can't do what our fans want us to do in terms of showing them really high-resolution replays, game action and even a lot of the marketing stuff we're doing with videos and pre-game and halftime shows — these screens are just not acceptable. This is very old technology, and they don't look very good, either. Think 30 or 40 percent larger and think big-image area for high-definition resolution screens. I think our fans will love it.
If you have never been to a stadium with video boards that size, it's a massive difference. It is Brandon's "hope" they are in for 2011. Brandon also re-iterates that advertising for the Big Chill does not presage advertising during football games. That's part of an extensive interview with Angelique Chengelis, BTW, that you should check out.
Time to go. The Only Colors takes an unprecedented step for them and calls for the replacement of Rick Comley as Michigan State's head coach. Despite how much I've been enjoying this stretch in MSU hockey, I'm with them. This is the third straight year they'll miss the tourney and the second time in three years they're virtually indistinguishable from Bowling Green, a school that's considering dropping their program. This year is like Rich Rodriguez having another 3-9 year two years after his first, and while Comley does have a fluke national title that sort of thing shouldn't be survivable at a program like MSU.
Etc.: Doc Sat points out how weird it is that awards lists are featuring Denard Robinson as something other than a quarterback when they were fine with Eric Crouch, et al, as QBs. Robinson completed 60% of his passes… what more do you need? Basketball takes on North Carolina Central at 7 this evening.
12/11/2010 – Michigan 5, Michigan State 0 – 10-5-4, 9-3-1 CCHA
Michigan State is bad at hockey.
12/10/2010 – Michigan 1, Ak—
Oh, all right.
Michigan State is really bad at hockey, bad to the point where it seems like the next time their program is anything better than decent it will be under their next coach. While I find this 80% delightful the other 20% is depressed that the grand terror of a game against Ryan Miller* has been replaced by the usual mild discomfort when a crappy CCHA team comes to town against a Michigan team capable of blowing it against a crappy CCHA team.
So the only differences between this game and Michigan's series against BG earlier in the year are the size of the crowd, my annoyance at the State band, and my lingering antipathy for Rick Comley for his non-handling of the Kampfer incident. I have a sense of how Ohio State fans must feel about Michigan football's struggles now.
As a result the Big Chill lacked the grandeur of the Cold War despite being bigger and having more fireworks and an equal amount of appalling pregame musical guest. The thing on the ice was no longer #1 versus #4. Ryan Miller was not there, nor was Mike Cammalleri or a half-dozen other guys currently plying their trade in the NHL. Midway through the second I wished Michigan had scheduled Notre Dame or Miami, because if Michigan State's going to return a big chunk of their allotment anyway we should at least have a hockey game worthy of 113,000.
If you're going to schedule a team that's hanging out with Bowling Green in the conference slums, though, you should at least chop them up into tiny bits and serve them as hors d'oeuvres to the assembled throng. Michigan did, leaving the crowd's biggest reaction to come at the tail end of a 5-0 game when the most important thing was holding on to the shutout. This year it appears symbolic acts will be the only important ones, and in ten years when this happens again and they dig out the record books for outdoor games past that zero will read "Comley" to me, and I'll remember that weird period when Michigan State was horrible.
Non-bullets got very cold towards the end
A lovely touch. This is the opposite of Cal playing Chariots of Fire on their scoreboards after Washington pulls off a last-second win: event organizers forced Michigan State to sit through the fireworks in the cold after losing 5-0; when they tried to leave halfway through they were prevented.
A fishy number. The stands were almost full, but with the top end of one endzone was sparsely populated I'm a little dubious about the Guinness-endorsed 113k since it seems like a football game would have hit that this year. I've assumed Michigan counts every last person in the building for football, but maybe not.
Hey, that looked intentional. First, highlights:
The Rust-to-Merrill goal was a two-on-two rush that resulted in a pretty goal, something Michigan fans haven't seen much of this year. The rest of the goals were also intentional but born more of hard work finding rebounds or just shooting—the slick passing to get someone open has not been a regular feature.
Celebrations. On the reel above you can see Carl Hagelin either attempt to saw off his arm at the elbow or play the world's least tiny violin after his first goal, but they missed a celebration in the third wherein the team assembled to kick an extra point. This has apparently been lost to history.
The road ahead. Notre Dame and Miami split two weeks ago, leaving the three-way race at the top of the league very tight. Michigan would be ahead in hypothetical baseball standings as they're a point back of Notre Dame with a game in hand and one clear of Miami with two in hand, and their schedule is looking pretty easy down the stretch:
- The GLI features State, an MTU team that's lost ten straight, and a 7-5 Colorado College team. Michigan should meet CC in the final.
- Games against very bad CCHA teams: Three more against MSU.
- Games against mediocre CCHA teams: two against Ferris (home and home), two against OSU (home), two against WMU (home), two against NMU (away)
- Games against good CCHA teams: two against Alaska (home)
- Series of the year: two against Miami (away)
The CCHA is the three teams at the top, LSSU, MSU, and BG at the bottom, and then a mass of five teams that are tough to differentiate. Miami has to play both ND and Michigan again, but Michigan has already gotten its series with ND out of the way—advantage teams that aren't Miami. Michigan also has a ton of home games. They'll have to get a bit better in goal and score more goals they mean to if they're going to win the league, but they've put themselves in good position.
Unfortunately, without tearing through the back end of the schedule Michigan is probably locked out of a one seed with their mediocre OOC performance. Hockey puts inordinate emphasis on OOC.
A rule not so good. Michigan State did score, though. They put in a power play goal when a puck deflected high off Hunwick and fluttered to the goal line to be batted in, but a nanosecond before that happened Hunwick fell into the net and knocked it off. While the refs got the call right, it was totally unfair: you definitely scored, you didn't do anything to get the net off, and you still get nothing. They should probably change it so that if your goal is imminent when the defense knocks the net off you still get it.
Merrill actually doesn’t remember the first goal. He closed his eyes when he shot it and the next thing he knew, he was mobbed by teammates. Everything else is a happy blur.
Not recommended for drivers, as your blur will not be happy.
*(I have superficially hated many opposing athletes but Miller stands out as the guy I hated only because he was so unbelievably good. He did nothing but save everything.)
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:00 Eastern, December 11th 2010|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||FS Detroit/Big Ten Network|
20% chance of rain/snow
The Only Colors has a preview from a Michigan State perspective that's essentially what I'd write if I was going to put one together. After a decent start Michigan State endured an awful 1-6 stretch that's put them behind the eight ball in the league and the (hypothetical) pairwise.
The last couple weekends they've recovered to split in the Showcase and against a decent Ferris State team, but the losses of Petry, Tropp, and Rowe have been too much for a talent-deficient MSU team to overcome. As long as Comley's around the Spartans are going to be bad or very bad when they only have two seniors and four draft picks. Both programs have fallen off from where they were ten years ago for the Cold War, which was a season-opener in October that saw #1 Michigan State take on #4 Michigan, but Michigan's fallen back from dominant to very good while Michigan State has turned into Northern Michigan, except Northern never ends up tenth in the league.
There's a big gap in the goal differentials:
MSU: 42 GF, 46 GA overall (2.47/2.71 per game), 23/29 in conference (2.09/2.63 per game)
Michigan: 58 GF, 45 GA overall (3.22/2.50 per game), 38/26 in conference (3.17/2.17 per game)
Michigan's goal difference is about where it was last year (higher in conference but lower overall). Ours, on the other hand, has gone well into the red. This time, the records actually match the goal difference numbers, unlike last year where we finished 2nd in conference and Michigan was 7th despite a better goal difference.
The guy to watch is Brett Perlini, a seventh-round pick of Anaheim who's Michigan State's leading scorer with an 11-5-16 line. Big and talented, he's the kind of player Michigan's finesse defense might have issues with. Daultan Leveille is a first round pick of the Thrashers and while he hasn't lived up to that hype in three years at State he's extremely fast and is the Spartan best able to take advantage of the Olympic sheet. Derek Grant is Perlini's setup guy and an Ottawa draft pick; past that the Spartans have diminutive senior Dustin Gazely, who is all right and has 5-6-11, and a bunch of guys named Chelios who are marginal players. Shut down the Spartans' top line and they have very little else. The only D who gets involved with the offense is Torey Krug
Michigan State goalie Drew Palmisano is having an okay year. He's about average in save percentage; given what I've seen from him in the past I'm betting he's facing an inordinate number of good shots.
I summarized the season to date earlier in the week and nothing's changed since then. To recap: Michigan isn't the team that went 10-10 before the break last year, but it's not the team that tore off ten straight to salvage an NCAA bid, either. It's a version of last year's team that's a little older and better. They spend most of the game in the opponent's end unless they're playing elite competition, get a lot of goals they don't really mean to score, and lack the top-end scoring star Red's teams have been built around for ages. When Berenson admits his group is "blue collar," you know there's a lack of flash. Yea, it is so.
They're still not bad or anything, but it doesn't look like this group is going into the NCAA tournament expecting to make a Frozen Four. Hoping, probably. Not expecting.
Hogan has earned the start this weekend, which may presage a shift in Michigan's goalie strategy long term. Two years ago Michigan split time between Hogan and Sauer, with Hogan taking over in the second half of the season. I wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat in the cards, with Hunwick getting a few games here and there.
Michigan has an advantage in that they've practiced on the outdoor ice (and Olympic sheet) the past week:
"Now we don't have to worry about the sun or the rain or wind or snow or bad ice or good ice. Now we can just worry about playing hockey," he said. "We know the environment, we know the scenario is unique, but I think the novelty is wearing off a little."
MSU will have one practice outside today.
You may notice the threatening chance of rain above. The temperature is excellent for December… unless it rains, in which case everyone is going to be thinking of the 2008 Northwestern game and wishing it was 25. There are different forecasts at different sites. Weather Underground says there's a 20% chance of snow, which would be fine. The Weather Channel says a 30-40% chance of rain/snow, which would be miserable.
IANA meteorologist but it given the temperatures—barely above freezing and way colder in the cloud layer—and the dew point, which some guy on Yahoo Answers said had to be below freezing, it'll probably be a wet snow that melts when it hits. This section is evidence of a diseased mind.
Anyway, Weather Underground also says winds will be in the 10-14 MPH range, which may be enough for the CCHA to stop the game midway through the third and have the teams switch ends. This did not happen in last year's game against Wisconsin despite Michigan's request (Hogan's crease was faulty), but the CCHA's on top of things.
This is a game Michigan should win by putting Hagelin and company out against Perlini and relying on those guys to overwhelm the slower MSU team with their skating. Lines two through four are major advantage Michigan and the game should be largely focused in the MSU zone when they're on the ice.
Michigan has a hard time turning possession into goals, however, and plays a large number of games against obviously inferior competition that they can't break open because of their lack of firepower. They just did it twice against Ohio State, struggled to finish off Lake State, etc. If they played this 100 times Michigan might win 60 with 20 ties and 20 MSU wins, but they're only playing once, so here's a stupid prediction of a 3-2 Michigan victory and snow.