It's was sunny and lovely out yesterday in Michigan. Sunday night's storm swept the humidity aside and deposited rain where it belongs: on my lawn. So why did it feel like that sun was a little darker, that sky a little hazier, this July a little less nice than the June that preceded it? Oh, right.
— Maryland Athletics (@umterps) June 30, 2014
It's official: our moms are forcing us to play with Scott Malkinson.
Why is this happening again? Well they're joining for the money: both schools have had relatively bad athletic departments who over-leveraged themselves in the big sport facility and coaching arms races, Rutgers less so than Maryland, but then Rutgers was about to wind up trapped in the sinking ship of the Big East/American. Maryland has massive debt from its building projects and the ACC ain't gonna pay them, so they were ready to whore themselves out to whichever conference came along, even if it meant an end to their relationship with Duke.
(No, Penn State fans don't care about either as rivals.)
The real question is why in the heck we'd want them. It's cable TV. Starting with the Big Ten, the big conferences have been getting in on the great scam of cable bundling. Cable providers have monopolies in their markets, and are second only to the military-industrial complex in political spending, all so they can force subscribers into all-or-nothing tiers of hundreds of channels to get one they want (and try to charge people extra to not get their internet slowed).
|Big Ten's Expansion Plan: rip off the cable companies after they rip off America. [Image credit: HuffPo]|
This works out very well for the cable giants but leaves them a particular vulnerability to any network with a sports license. Fiercely loyal college football fans will scream at their cable providers if they can't watch the game, and advertisers lust after sports because they're the last of the DVR-proof live events, so cable providers pay out the nose for the network with the game. Then they place that network on a relatively accessible tier that everybody in that market must pay for, and raise prices accordingly.
In this way, if there are just enough A&M fans in Dallas, every cable subscriber in Dallas will pay an extra $5/month to the SEC and its partner (ESPN). If there are just enough Missouri fans in St. Louis, if there just enough Maryland fans in D.C. metro area, if there are just enough Rutgers fans in New York City, etc. The Big Ten schools are gambling on there being enough Rutgers fans to scam $5/month from everyone in New York. So far they've already got New Jersey and Maryland.
The gamble for the schools is they think they'll sell out the stadiums no matter who's visiting, so who gives a damn if it's Maryland visiting instead of Wisconsin. The fans aren't going to see a dime of the Comcast deal (at least not at Michigan—most schools are a little less adversarial to their fans) and just have to decide to put up with the new faces, or not.
In the list of downsides, there are worse things that can happen than having Wisconsin disappear forever, or the invention of more derived, ugly trophies. So long as it ends with Ohio State and MSU is in there, it's a Michigan season, while any Notre Dame or Minnesota you can sprinkle in is appreciated. To put the loss in context I thought I'd look through Michigan's history with the conference with respect to the frequency we've faced various conference rivals.
A History of Western/Big Ten Conference Scheduling
Early years (1892-1906): Prior to the invention of the conference, Michigan already played some of its future rivals. They played Chicago twice in 1893 (both on the road), and even after joining the conference Michigan had an extra (non-conference) game against Chicago's med students.
|Hey, just 'cause we left you guys aren't supposed to be rivals. [Chicago vs. Minnesota in 1916.]|
There were seven teams in the original 1896 conference—Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Chicago—with Indiana and Iowa joining in 1899. Teams customarily only played games in October and November, and Michigan played anywhere from two to five conference opponents a year. The 1906 team (the last before leaving the conference for a time) played just one conference game (Illinois) among five games plus an alumni exhibition.
If there was any pattern to this, it's that Michigan and Chicago would play every year except 1899 and 1906. There were a few stretches of other rivals lasting not more than four years. The newcomers (Indiana 1900-'03, Iowa 1900-'02) apparently were guaranteed some starter games with Michigan. Wisconsin (1899, 1902-'05) was the next-most regular. Northwestern and Michigan only played twice before M left. Once we did, we played Minnesota twice but nobody else.
[after the jump, we lose Chicago, gain worse]
The goal: to put together a team of Big Ten players that seems like a better team than your competitors. Incidentally we'll learn a surprising amount about the league and where Michigan might fit in.
PREVIOUSLY ON DRAFTAGEDDON
- Everyone not grabbing dual-threat senior QBs grabs defensive linemen
- Seth takes Venric Mark in front of just about everyone
- Nothing terribly remarkable happens
- BISB takes all the guys I want
WHERE WE'RE AT PRESENTLY
ROUND 9 – Pick 1: Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota
O: QB Braxton Miller (OSU), RB Melvin Gordon (UW), WR Stefon Diggs (MD), OT Rob Havenstein(WI)
D: DE Frank Clark(MI), DE Theiren Cockran (MN), DT Darius Hamilton(RU), DT Carl Davis(IA), CB Trae Waynes (MSU)
BRIAN: I'll complete my DL with Cockran, who is another one of those Minnesota linemen that enter school as a 6'6" basketball player and take some time to pack on the weight. In Cockran's case he arrived at 210 pounds(!) and needed about a year and a half to get up to anything resembling plausible. When he did that, he popped into a starting job and immediately produced. Cockran matched the sack numbers of Bosa, Calhoun, and Spence without getting any of them by running over Fitz Toussaint. He made second-team All Big Ten as a result.
Cockran did that at 245 and with plenty more space on his 6'6" frame he should add another 20 or so pounds this year to become more of an all-around force. A still-raw true sophomore, he's about to Hageman your asses.
Also, while you guys were falling all over yourselves to pick piles of near-identical DEs I picked up the league's best QB, RB, CB, WR, and run-blocking tackle. Meanwhile I only got a first round DT, two second-team All Big Ten performers from a year ago, and a five star recruit with double digit TFLs as a true sophomore. Whatever shall we do?
ROUND 9 - PICK 2: Darius Kilgo, NT, Maryland
more like Darius KILLGO
O: RB Ameer Abdullah (NE), WR Devin Funchess (U-M), TE Maxx Williams (MN), LT Brandon Scherff (IA)
D: DE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), DE/DT Andre Monroe (MD), NT Darius Kilgo (MD), LB Chi Chi Ariguzo (NW), CB Desmond King (IA)
ST: KR/PR Ameer Adbullah (NE)
ACE: You never should've assigned me both FFFF duties and the HTTV opponent previews, Brian. The student is becoming the master.
/sees Hamilton pick
Regardless, you haven't snarked at one of my picks since Round 4, which has to be some sort of record. I've got legitimate arguments for best RB, WR, and TE, I definitely have the best OT, and on defense I can lay claim to best all-around WLB and 3-tech/SDE/whatever I decide to do with Monroe. Also, beg to differ on the whole "best run-blocking tackle in the B1G" thing:
Yes, I made that GIF just to prove a point. What of it?
Anyway, it looks like we're poised for a run on defensive tackles, so I'll make my move here and once again grab an overlooked Maryland lineman. I probably shouldn't have to tell you anything other than "is a 310-pound redshirt senior named DARIUS KILGO" but I'll do so anyway.
While Brian drafted Carl Davis way back in the second round, Kilgo isn't too far off from Davis on 2015 NFL Draft rankings—or, in this case, ranked above him—especially when you separate the nose tackles from the three-techs. I discussed Maryland's strong defensive line when nabbing Andre Monroe; Bill Connelly is a fan, and the first name out of his mouth after Monroe's when discussing the Terp front seven was Kilgo's:
Darius Kilgo proved an agile, interesting force at nose tackle.
Kilgo's ascension to starting nose tackle in 2012 coincided with Maryland's rush defense shaving over a full yard per carry off their opponent average, from 4.7 down to 3.5. He tallied five TFLs and two sacks that season, and followed it up with 6.5 TFLs and another pair of sacks in 2013. For a 3-4 nose facing consistent double-teams, those are impressive numbers; he holds up against multiple blockers and still finds a way to occasionally knife into the backfield.
As for that "interesting, agile force" bit... yeah. Great jump, violent hands, scary closing speed on the QB ... I'm impressed, and again, that's my nose tackle. This defensive line is going to bring the noise and the funk. Also the pain. Definitely the pain.
So, uh, should we start worrying about the Maryland game yet? Because I'm definitely doing that.
[AFTER THE JUMP: really, just far far too much discussion about a single Rutgers OL.]
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.
While you're up there Glenn, go ahead and hang a banner.
These are banner muppets:
And you can't have one without the other…
For the second time in history a team with back-to-back losing records in its conference is probably going to the dance. The last time was Virginia in the brutal ACC of the 1990s. The next will most likely be Minnesota in this year's Big Ten.
This is the conference Michigan just clinched.
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.]