"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota|
|WHEN||6:30 PM Eastern, Today|
|LINE||M –4 (Kenpom)|
MINNESOTA BASKETBALL: HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTERS.
(thank you, Minnesota basketball, for not making Michigan basketball history's greatest monsters.
With a Rodger-Sherman-murdering overtime victory over Northwestern last night, Minnesota earns the right to play Michigan in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. They've also killed an innocent man. I hope you're happy, Oto Osenieks (@ right, smiling abut DEATH DEATH DEATH). HIS BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS.
Ah, so, anyway. Minnesota is an incredibly balanced team. Only one player averages more than 66% of available minutes and no one dominates the ball enough to get into the "Major Contributors" category at Kenpom. Chip Armelin does put up a hefty number of shots when he's in the game, but that's only 36% of the time. Scoring can come from anywhere for the Gophers. As we all learned while screaming at the television late in their game against Michigan State, it can also come from nowhere.
Minnesota is down one Ralph Sampson with a knee injury of some variety. He dressed but did not play at all yesterday and is not expected to play tonight, leaving Minnesota with freshmen Osenieks and Elliot Eliason in the post. Mostly Eliason—Osenieks got one minute yesterday, which he used to stab Rodger Sherman in the heart.
Unfortunately for Michigan, you can make a case that Eliason is not a downgrade on Sampson. They're the same size and while Sampson has much higher usage Eliason is a significantly better rebounder on both ends of the floor and not far off when it comes to blocked shots. Eliason has two major issues: he's getting 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes and he's a horrendous free throw shooter (11 of 28 on the year). He was 2 of 5 against Northwestern with six offensive rebounds, a couple of assists, and four fouls in 29 minutes. Sampson's numbers from Minnesota's loss to Michigan earlier in the season were essentially identical.
Minnesota was content to go small against Northwestern when Eliason was out. During those 16 minutes the tallest player on the floor for the Gophers were a couple 6'7" small forward sorts. They'll probably do the same against Michigan.
With Sampson out the headliner for Minnesota was guard Andre Hollins, who blew up for 25 points by hitting five of ten three-pointers. He was at 39% before that and his two-point shooting (34%) is amazingly bad, so the prescription is obvious there: run him off the line, off the line, off the line. With Eliason the main post guy there shouldn't be much reason to sag off of him.
The other main cogs of the Gopher offense at this juncture are Rodney Williams, the aforementioned 6'7" guy, and point guard Austin Hollins. Williams can jump out of the gym.
He also did this to a Nebraska player:
If that looks familiar, you're probably thinking of Zack Novak getting MBAKWE'D last year. Tubby Smith may not be able to get his team to the tournament but by God he can find some freakish power forwards.
Williams reminds me of Brent Petway, except good. However, he's not totally un-Petwayish. His usage is basically the same as all other Gophers, he's another horrendous free-throw shooter (55%), and he's not a threat from deep. He depends on offensive rebounding and assists for his offense and doesn't generate much on his own. So while he shoots 60% from two, you can control his opportunities decently well. Zack Novak's no stranger to matchups against larger, more athletic opponents and should cope decently. There will be a couple of posterizations. As long as Williams isn't getting 15 high-quality attempts Michigan should be able to cope.
The other Hollins was the assist guy against the Wildcats; he was also the turnover guy. He ended with six of the former and four of the latter. He's an efficient shooter from all ranges (84/51/37 percent FT/2/3). Michigan is going to see a different version of him this time out; in Crisler Hollins got just 14 minutes off the bench and didn't score.
Joe Coleman and Julian Welch were the other guys soaking up minutes against Northwestern. Welch came off the bench but got a Stu Douglass-like 30 minutes despite that; he hit half his threes and had a couple offensive rebounds to go with some turnovers. On the season he has by far the highest assist rate of any Gopher and also shoots efficiently (83/50/43). Coleman is a freshman who is not a good offensive player at this juncture and is having more minutes piled on him lately for unknown reasons.
Minnesota is so balanced that anyone could go off; the main threat seems to be massive numbers of three-pointers. The Gophers matched Northwestern's 11 for 26 shooting yesterday; if they do that again Michigan is going to have to keep pace or exit early. Survey says…
The Gophers' nonconference schedule was abysmal. According to Kenpom the best team on it was #56 South Dakota State. They got by the Bison, lost to Dayton in their preseason tourney championship game, and scraped by Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC challenge. Thus concludes their nonconference games against Kenpom top 100 opponents.
When they hit the Big Ten they suffered four consecutive losses to start things and never really recovered. Their sole quality win was 77-74 at Indiana, which is pretty impressive. But all other Big Ten wins came against Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern, and Nebraska.
Conference four factors:
|Factor||Offense (Rk)||Defense (Rk)||Avg|
|Effective FG%:||49.2 8||47.4 4||49|
|Turnover %:||21.8 12||18.1 8||20.8|
|Off. Reb. %:||33.4 3||31.1 10||32.5|
|FTA/FGA:||36.5 6||43.3 11||36.5|
This is the statistical picture of an athletic, unskilled, not-very-smart team. They're great on the offensive boards and it's tough to shoot over them (they're #1 in the conference at blocking shots) but they turn the ball over a ton, allow opponents to crash the boards despite their size, and foul like the dickens.
Other statistical bits of interest include steal percentage, blocks suffered on offense, and three-point shooting. Minnesota is last, 11th, and sixth, respectively. This means that 1) Michigan should have fast break opportunities off of turnovers, 2) Minnesota's shots are often heavily contested, and 3) a lot of the shiny numbers Kenpom shows for Minnesota's three-point shooting are artifacts of a poor nonconference schedule.
Timmah? TIMMAH. We've gotten to the point in the rejuvenation cycle where newspapers are appending narratives to potentially random events:
Left with no other choice, Hardaway eventually came out of his shell and began to look for help.
He spent time with Michigan Director of Athletic Counseling Greg Harden, a man former Wolverine football greats like Desmond Howard and Tom Brady have sworn by.
He began to take a look at the mental part of his game, analyzing it as much as any jump shot or free throw mechanic.
Is that why he's been playing better? God, I hope so. The alternative is that Hardaway is just experiencing a random fluctuation to the good and should revert to an established level of play just in time for that to suck hard. I don't know which is the case. Not enough data, so we make big.
Hardaway did add 13 points on nine shots against Penn State and is now hitting around 43% over his last seven games. This is getting pretty trend-y. His turnover rate is going up, which is fine to a certain extent but not so much when those turnovers are coming on dribbles he puts off his foot.
Smotryczah? Maybe. Michigan's other mercurial outside shooting talent also came to life against Penn State. That one basket Smotrycz had where he drove to the short corner and calmly pulled up for a jumper caused hearts to flutter. Can he build on that performance against a team that is not completely horrible on defense?
Don't let anyone taller than 6'4" have an easy basket. Williams, Eliason, Osenieks, and sub Andre Ingram are all are very bad free throw shooters. If they're in position for a dunk or layup, just foul them.
Convert on fast break opportunities. There will probably be a bunch of them; too often this year we've seen a Hardaway or Smotrycz rumble up the court and get the ball poked away.
Don't let anyone shorter than 6'7" take an uncontested three. Welch is at 43%, Hollins 39%, other Hollins 37%. I know these are inflated numbers but if that's a representation of what they do when half their games give them a lot of open threes because the opponents are bad, that's still not something Michigan wants to deal with. The only player on Minnesota who is a plus shooter from inside the line is Williams. Anyone else taking a two-point jumper is a win for Michigan.
Eliason foul watch. He's it as far as centers go for Minnesota and he picks up a ton of fouls. If he's out Michigan's path eases. This won't be a Shurna situation. No one who's playing the false five is a shooting threat and Morgan can just sag into the lane if Minnesota tries to play games with a small lineup.
This can also be reversed, of course: Morgan/Smotrycz foul watch in effect. They've been less spastic than Eliason over the course of the season and there are two of them, so it's less of an issue for Michigan, especially given Eliason's apparent lack of post touches.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by four.
About Last Saturday:
Purdue 14, Michigan 36
Caption contest. Go.
The Road Ahead:
Iowa (5-3, 2-2 B1G)
Last game: Iowa 21, Minnesota 22 (L)
Recap: The only thing worse than questing for title of “Worst Big Ten Team EVER” is losing to that team, which Iowa did on Saturday. Flags in Iowa City flew at half mast to honor the death of Gopherquest -- and themselves, in the eyes of Brian Cook.
Two deaths and a funeral indeed.
Let’s take a look at the autopsy report: Thanks to a couple missed field goals, the game was close through the third quarter until Iowa scored to go ahead 21-10 early in the fourth, seemingly poised to finally wrest it out of Minnesota’s reach.
After a Hawkeyes fumble and Gophers field goal, however, Minnesota converted a fourth and one from their own 42 and scored a touchdown a couple plays later.
The Gophers onside kicked, catching Iowa by surprise. Minnesota recovered and miraculously scored again on a fourth-down conversion at the Iowa three.
Flailing, the Hawkeyes went four-and-out and were then helpless to stop the Gophers from running out the clock.
Remarkably, Iowa RB Marcus Coker carried the ball 32 times for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns in an outstanding effort no Iowa fan will ever remember. Imagine if Pheidippides had made it all the way to Athens only to collapse before delivering his message. Instead of inspiring an entire culture of running a couple millenia later, now he’s just a clammy dead guy.
Right now they are as frightening as: A watered down version of 2007 Michigan immediately post-Horror -- not as good, therefore not as embarrassed. Still hiding under a blanky though. 5.
Michigan should worry about: The first real manball team on the schedule not playing in a trash tornado. Also the last.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Iowa had the rhabdomyolysis problem in the offseason, which seems to have scared the CARA out of the strength staff. (Do you see what I did there?)
As a result, Iowa’s defense looks like it’s been playing Wii Fit in lieu of real conditioning. They made Iowa State QB Steele Jantz look like Andrew Luck, allowed Penn State to go Look-Ma-No-QB, and couldn’t stop Marqueis Gray when it mattered -- incidentally, all of these things happened in the fourth quarter.
When Michigan plays them: 2011 Iowa is undefeated at home. 2011 Michigan is undefeated in November. Immovable object meet unstoppable force? Hah.
For realsies now: Iowa’s best win was against Pitt. This was the game where Vandenberg led the epic comeback against a Tony Gibson coached secondary, earning him the Vandenhenneberg moniker. The joke is getting stale, but if you were still wondering, that along with BGHP’s gushing comparison at the beginning of the season is where it comes from. Their next best win was against Northwestern, and you know all about Northwestern’s secondary. And then if you keep looking you fall off a cliff right before the Indianas and Lousiana-Monroes of the world, where concerns about the secondary are, well … secondary.
Sorry, I had to do that.
The Wolverines secondary is much better these days, having survived Alex Carder, Michael Floyd, Dan Persa, and B.J. Cunningham (electing to fall prey to Keshawn Martin instead). Teams succeeded against VandenMcHenneNutt by preventing deep routes. Michigan’s inside-and-in-front philosophy should be able to do at least that.
And then there’s the issue of the Hawkeyes defense. Their major breakdowns tend to happen late in the game due to the aforementioned stamina problems. Aside from targeting specific weakness (see Ace’s FFFF), offensive playcalling that spreads and stretches the field laterally to wear down Iowa defenders would be a smart approach, especially early in the game.
(more after the jump)
Sometimes I post on Wednesday, sometimes I post on Thursday. Ideally I should post on Tuesday, but ideally Michigan should be undefeated.
Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (4-3, 2-1 B1G)
Last game: No. 23 Illinois 14, Purdue 21 (W)
Recap: If you want something more than handwaving, see Ace’s FFFF.
In a nutshell, Purdue managed two real drives in the first half while stymieing Illinois’ offense for a good 50 minutes before the Illini finally came to. As Ace indicates, the Boilermakers didn’t so much win this game as Illinois lost it: Purdue is a not very good team that happened to play well. The Illini were a better team that made enough mistakes to beat themselves. Sometimes you can bring a knife to a gunfight and prevail because the guys with the guns shoot at each other first. That’s not the best analogy but you get the point.
Right now they are as frightening as: After losing to Rice and narrowly escaping Middle Tennessee State at the beginning of the season, Purdue has improved enough to play Penn State close and beat a ranked Illinois team. What does this mean?
It means that the Big Ten isn’t very good. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Underestimating Purdue’s defense. While not stellar as a unit, they’re fairly opportunistic, led by a secondary that is competent to good. CB Ricardo Allen, the guy who intercepted Denard last year and hurdled him for a 94-yard touchdown, is still on the team. He’s a sophomore, so we’ll be seeing him for a while.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Saturday’s weather forecast says 52 degrees and partly cloudy with 0 percent chance of trash. Roy Roundtree's Donald Duck voice.
When Michigan plays them: Is Michigan good enough to not beat itself? Most signs point to yes. This game may not be pretty--you should avert your eyes every time a Purdue running back makes for the sideline or when Denard throws a duck into coverage--but a barring a complete collapse on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines should at least be able to grind out a win.
Next game: at No. 17 Snake Oil Emporium
LAST TIME ON GOPHERQUEST: We laid out the somewhat silly ground rules for Worst Big Ten Team ever, which are:
Lose all your conference games
Score the lowest percentage of points in your conference games
Have existed after 1930
A quick recap of history indicated the Gophers were off to a stirring start. Two games in they were the worst Big Ten team in 50 years.
THIS WEEK ON THE QUEST
The Gophers played Nebraska, one-time annihilator of the Big 12, and lost 41-14. The noon window on Saturday was so bad that I watched the last ten minutes of this game, screaming at Nebraska's second-string defense not to allow second garbage-time touchdown. They did.
POINTS ALLOWED: 144
POINTS SCORED: 31
SCORING PERCENTAGE: 17.7%
The '81 Northwestern Wildcats had scoring percentage of 15%.
At the end of the season I think we're going to look at these two weeks as a massive missed opportunity. Nebraska was up 34-0 at the half. Braves and Birds on what Nebraska does to teams they are up 34-0 against:
Bo Pelini, the vintage Nebraska teams would not have allowed a 34-0 halftime lead over an overmatched opponent turn into a 41-14 final. Tom Osborne would have beaten Minnesota by at least 65-3.
Alas, they don't make blowouts like they used to.
If Gray doesn't punch one in with two minutes left against Nebraska and Purdue doesn't give up a kick return touchdown, Minnesota's hovering around 10%, well within shouting distance of Harry Kipke's worst-ever 1934 Wolverines.
The Gophers had their bye week before Nebraska and face this season-closing gauntlet: Iowa, @ Michigan State, Wisconsin, @ Northwestern, Illinois. Purdue easily beating Illinois gives Minnesota some hope that they might be vaguely competitive—like into the second quarter—against the kind of teams that lose to Purdue, but Iowa's defense can hold Minnesota's best hope may be the Northwestern secondary.
Quest fans, meanwhile, are eyeing that Wisconsin game as an opportunity for the 83-0 drubbing it's going to take to push the Gophers into all-time territory.
Sagarin predicts the following:
- Iowa: 12-point loss
- @ Michigan State: 32-point loss
- Wisconsin: 31-point loss
- @ Northwestern: 13 point loss
- Illinois: 16 point loss
That's not going to get it done, but I don't think Sagarin's computer is able to process how extreme of an outlier this Gopher team is.
MOMENT OF GOPHER ZEN
[protip: hit escape to stop gif animation]
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace, the last Anbender.)
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 14, Michigan State 28
That feels about right.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (3-3, 1-1 B1G)
Last game: Purdue 18, Penn State 23 (L)
Recap: Try figuring out how many football scores it takes to get to 18. What is that, six field goals? Two touchdowns and two safeties? Now try to make 23.
Yeah, it was that kind of a game. Purdue was also inexplicably a couple missed kicks short of being tied with Penn State.
Not sure which team was still living in last week, but both were coming off statement wins -- the Nittany Lions’ of the “Kirk Ferentz owns us only most of the time” variety, and the Boilermakers’ of the “If the Big Ten were the solar system we would be Venus, which is still a lot better than that Kuiper belt object named Minnesota, formerly known as Pluto” variety.
Purdue’s running back duo carried the ball 13 times each with surprising effectiveness. Ralph Bolden averaged 7.5 ypc, thanks largely to a 39-yarder, and Akeem Shavers averaged 4.2 ypc. Against Penn State, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, although Ace’s FFFF next week will probably have something to say about the schematic advantage inherent in their offense. (Hint: they run the spread.)
The Boilermakers QBs, on the other hand, were unremarkable. Caleb TerBush completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. QB Robert Marve attempted just five passes, one of which was an interception. Bench.
About Purdue’s defense -- that the Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to score points against them is more a testament to how derpy Penn State’s quarterback situation is rather than to how stout the Boilermakers are on that side of the ball. For the record, Purdue has the 30th ranked scoring defense in the country, which reflects some degree of competency, but that’s a ranking that’s about as tenable as Michigan’s No. 10 spot in that category.
Right now they are as frightening as: Michigan’s ability to defend an inconsistent spread. 4.
Michigan should worry about: Teaching the linebackers how to defend the perimeter -- you know, keep contain and stop outside runs, short passes, and bubble screens. Things that no one else ever seems to have a problem doing for some reason.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Purdue doesn’t run the spread very well. How they managed to put together four scoring drives against a Penn State defense that held Iowa to three points is beyond me, but again, Ace’s FFFF should shed some light onto that.
When Michigan plays them: Fueled by an irascible disdain for the sale of snake oil, Purdue has outperformed in this game for the past several years. If you’ll recall, there was that last minute hook-and-ladder incident in 2008. Then in 2009 they came from behind to win by capitalizing on a missed Michigan PAT and surprise onside kick. Last year, despite being in the middle of the great torn ACL epidemic, the Boilermakers played Michigan so closely that as I tracked the game from an iPhone, I got mad at ESPN Mobile for doing a crappy job updating the scores.
So yeah, the Not-2008-or-2009-or-2010-ness of this year’s Michigan team could use a decisive win here.
Next game: No. 23 Illinois
Next, the Jump. Michigan should worry about: broken internet connections. Sleep soundly about: more room on the front page.
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 42, Northwestern 24
I wasn't there. Wah wah.
The Road Ahead:
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 B1G)
Last Game: Bye
Recap: They didn’t play, but I’m going to write mean things about them anyway.
Right now they are as frightening as: Jerel Worthy’s tattoo.
It’s big. It’s ugly. It’s under the skin. It’s going to be there forever. On the other hand, a closer look reveals something misguided about the sense of superiority it portrays. It ends up being actually kind of funny, and years later, whenever the Big Ten becomes a superconference and lets Missouri into the club, it’ll finally make sense.
Oh yeah, about their football team: Objectively, they’re probably around a 6. Personally, they got up to somewhere near an 8 when I watched Michigan’s first half vs. Northwestern and dropped down to a 4 when I watched the second half.
Michigan should worry about: Denard vs. interceptions. The ineffectiveness of the ground game against Northwestern was a bad sign because against Michigan State it’s going to be worse. Denard is going to have to throw it, and I’m going to end up really sick from stress-eating all the press box food. I hope there are meatballs.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Brady Hoke, on Michigan State’s offensive line:
Well, they’re big, which is the normal case.
To their credit, Michigan State does have solid-to-stellar players at QB, RB, and WR, but having a talented 7-on-7 squad doesn’t mean much when the other team puts 11 guys on the field.
When Michigan plays them: This is going to be one of those games where the score will be 14-10 after the first quarter and 14-10 at the end of the third quarter. It’s going to be terrible. Halfway into the second quarter I’m going to start annoying the person sitting next to me with compulsive commentary, especially if Ace isn’t going to East Lansing. He just told me he’s not going. Okay well that sucks. Apologies in advance to whoever ends up sitting next to me.
Michigan wins if they can get to Cousins early and often, especially if they can accomplish that with just a four-man rush.
Next game: No. 11 Missouri Raccoons.
(more after the jump.)