IT'S MADE OF PAPER UNKNOWN TO MANKIND. The Daily has a book that compiles all their Harbaugh stuff, Harbaugh-related stuff, and Harbaugh-tangential stuff from the past year. You can order it for $5 plus shipping, or skip the shipping and pick it up from the Student Publications building on Maynard. Proceeds help the Daily keep running so they can continue to pump out epic features. Someone's got to write COLUMNS that don't make you want to die.
If this is the start of the zombie apocalypse I'm going to be upset. Gotta give me at least five years of Harbaugh before the end of the world.
The Ross Academic Center is being quarantined pic.twitter.com/Cp0L7jFiAr
— Jason Rubinstein (@jrubinstein4) February 17, 2016
Apparently most of the swimming and diving team is sick and they're checking the pool for something that turns you into a flesh-eating, non-verbal lumbering horror. Sounds like they should check the press box, not the pool.
Also please not before the MONORAIL. True story: one of the first Every Three Weekly articles ever was about an outlandish plan to join Central Campus to North Campus with a monorail. (In it, Tom Goss projected it would make money thanks to monorailgoblue.com, because Michigan had just launched mgoblue.com. Also it was on paper. I am old.) Well, IT'S HAPPENING DOT MONORAIL:
Schlissel, city envision monorail to unite North and Central campuses
Tuesday, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel reintroduced the idea of creating a rapid transit system between Central and North Campuses, a project that has essentially been dormant since 2013.
Would I ride this just to ride it? Definitely. Let's put our town on the map.
Yes, thank you sane person. Man, has it been hard to keep the fisk in the garage after the latest and dumbest hot take explosion about Harbaugh. The main reason I haven't opened both barrels is indecision about whether I should go after Mitch Albom, Drew Sharp, or Tony Barnhart, all of whom put the literary equivalent of Skyline chili on the internet in response to Harbaugh's plan to visit IMG. Nothing has been as dumb as this, though:
I mean… I can't put it past a guy whose version of the "Art of the Deal" will be titled "Chasing Rutgers," but cumong man. Put down the Confederate flag bong and sober up.
I may break down pretty soon here and call someone horseface, but for now Andy Staples is keeping me sane:
The Power Five leagues, including Sankey's SEC, got autonomy legislation passed so they could loosen some restrictions that other Division I schools wanted to keep tight. The new attitude in major college sports was supposed to be this: If you want to do it, do it. If you don't, don't. That lasted until several millionaire coaches got mad at another millionaire coach trying to mitigate their competitive advantage.
I'm so so done with being Meatloaf The Football Program: I'll do anything to win but I won't do that. Staples does mention that Harbaugh getting up in his players' spring break might come up during the infinite lawsuits the NCAA is fighting, but since a bunch of spring sports already do that it's likely a moot point. And as I always point out, Michigan fans should be hoping amateurism dies swiftly and comprehensively for the same reason the Yankees don't want a salary cap. I don't think Harbaugh is consciously attempting to point out the hypocrisy, but I'd support him if he was.
Meanwhile in attempts to negative recruit based on the above. Michael Dwumfour opens up about his recruitment process, detailing an ill-fated Penn State trip:
The Penn State coaching staff knew the competition it was up against. According to Dwumfour, the Lions poked fun at Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting techniques.
That didn’t sit well.
“When I was at Penn State, I heard jokes about Harbaugh and stuff like that,” Dwumfour said. “In the back of my head, I’m thinking ‘What he’s doing is working, obviously. Instead of criticizing him, you might want to take some of his techniques to try and help yourself out and get some recruits.’”
The prospect of Penn State coaches making fun of Harbaugh's sleepovers boggles the mind, but I put nothing that is bogglingly dumb past James Franklin.
Status of Bush the elder. Devin Bush Sr was long rumored to be on the verge of a Michigan job, something that he was openly hoping for in an interview with Brandon Brown:
“For me, if I was to get an opportunity, because I would love to coach at the next level, I never wanted to put it out there because I didn’t want to move my kids while they were in high school. If you get into that world you could be moving every eight to ten months. Once my son graduated, now I would be open for an opportunity because I don’t have to worry about moving kids, it’s just my wife and I.”
That sounds like a guy who is waiting for the Ts to get crossed and Is dotted. And now that Michigan's down Greg Jackson they might look at him for that job as well; Bush's profile isn't that far away from Jackson's: former NFL safety, little high-level experience. Harbaugh grabbed Jackson when he was an assistant DBs coach with Wisconsin.
Who doesn't these days? Tom Brady's agent wants to blow up the NCAA, and he's likely correct about how the edifice comes tumbling down:
This is the promise of [Don] Yee's advocacy. He is a football insider with firsthand knowledge of how a business works and the credibility to make people listen. He is exhausted, he says, by talk without much action and has reached the point of arguing for revolution: Blow up the system. Start over. Build anew. "This generation of players has more tools at its disposal than any other to be heard and to organize," he says. "If they adopted a Twitter hashtag of #disruptthefinalfour for the NCAA tournament, they would at least start a discussion. And significant change typically happens through some discussion that is too large to ignore."
All it would take is two basketball teams deciding to delay a Final Four game and amateurism is all over but the shouting. They don't even have to refuse to play. All they have to do is agree to start the game 15 minutes late, and there will be no illusions as to where the power actually resides. Yee:
"Nothing will change for the players unless they take the responsibility of becoming something more than willing victims to this system," Yee says. "At some point, you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself, 'Who am I? What am I doing? What's going on, and what am I doing about it?' These players, they have all the power -- they simply don't realize it."
That is correct. Someone's going to be the NCAA's Curt Flood, and pretty soon. Related: Sonny Vaccaro talks to the NYT, says the same things Vaccaro usually does.
I guess he's a Walverine. Michigan fans have this odd conversation about whether it's okay to be a Michigan fan without having attended the school. They do this largely because MSU fans are livid that nobody who doesn't go to MSU gives a damn about the Spartans and project this anger all around them. Meanwhile 95% of Alabamans are either Auburn or Alabama fans, and… uh… let's just stipulate that more than 5% of Alabamans do not have a degree from either institution. (Ace, at home, just screamed "BAN BOOKLARNIN'" again.)
It is good to have Michigan fans scattered about with no other connection to the school. One of them just joined the recruiting class:
“Honestly I’ve been a Michigan fan since I was little,” [Dylan] McCaffrey said. “My grandma is a big Michigan fan. She has a house about 40 minutes away [from Ann Arbor], so I don’t know why, but I just ended up loving them. I could’ve always seen myself going there, and in the end I just went back to how I felt about Michigan as a kid.”
Another person who was a Michigan fan for no particular reason: Jabrill Peppers. Let all who want to root for winged helmets do so irrespective of their degrees, and let MSU fans stew about it.
More on "floor seats". Everyone hated it. Especially people who have televisions. ESPN trotted out some poor damn spokesperson, who immediately torpedoed any sympathy I might have for her with a statement so inane it bordered on Dave Brandon Hire:
ESPN was built on trying new things and taking risks, and tonight is just another example of that.
ESPN was built on showing people athletics contests, not utterly failing to do so.
Austin Davis is looking rather different these days. Many people thought taking Davis was questionable at best when Michigan did, and it is going to be strange next year when Michigan has up to six post players on the roster (Doyle, Donnal, Wagner, Wilson, Davis, and Jon Teske). But Davis has done everything he can to prep himself:
“The big thing is I changed my diet around; I changed it pretty drastically,” he said. “And then I got on a new weight program.” …
A year ago, Davis was more of a plodder as he moved up and down the court. His teammates often had to wait for him to join them before they could run their offense.
That, more than anything, is why no major college offered him a scholarship — and U-M coach John Beilein made Davis aware of that fact.
“We had a directive,” said Eric Davis, Austin’s dad. “Coach Beilein really wanted to see him start moving better and running the court better.”
He has, and he now looks like a college post. Whether he'll still look like one in college is unknown; his 79% shooting percentage is indicative of both his talent and his competition level.
Who runs Big Ten hockey? The equivalent of Tom Anastos. Tom Anastos, hockey coach, not Tom Anastos, CCHA commissioner. Because Anastos was all right at the latter before being thrust into a role he had no frame of reference for. Ditto the folks running Big Ten hockey:
“Coming from a non-hockey background, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine a fan in the state of Minnesota who wouldn’t be excited to see a Michigan or a Michigan State come in to play,” he said. “I recognize and acknowledge that significant rivalries developed over the years in the previous leagues, and that’s fine."
Minnesota fans did not like this interview with Brad Traviolia, not one bit. I'm not much of a fan either. Nobody comes to the Big Ten hockey tournament because most fans are very far away from said tournament no matter where it is.
There is no possible solution to this problem. A neutral site Big Ten tournament is never going to draw. I have had season tickets for a decade now and I have no plans to ever go to a neutral site Big Ten Tournament, because that product sucks. It sucks being in a big empty building where hockey is going on. I am barely willing to put up with it for an NCAA tournament game. A Big Ten tourney where everyone makes it in doesn't even come close to moving the needle.
The only solution is to go to series on home ice, which four of the six schools should support since they have dedicated rinks. If Wisconsin or Ohio State don't want to host because of high school sports, they don't have to. Quit letting two schools that clearly don't care about hockey dictate to the 3.5 that do.
Hockey tourney status: don't collapse. Jim Dahl's excellent Pairwise projection site is reaching peak utility as hockey comes down the stretch here. Michigan is in barring a spectacular collapse:
Even 2-5 likely sees them sitting in a pretty secure at-large spot, though they'd definitely want to win a game in the Big Ten tournament. Three wins and they would be all but a lock going into that tourney unless results elsewhere conspired against them; 4-3 and they're 100% in.
A one seed would require Michigan to absolutely sprint down the stretch; even a 6-1 finish most likely sees them still a 2 going into the BTT.
I have no idea how good this goalie is. The Daily's Jason Rubinstein on Michigan's poor, bombarded goalie:
After three and a half years, Racine is playing the best hockey he ever has in a Michigan uniform. Berenson named him the team’s bona fide starter more than three months ago. For his last six games, he boasts a .931 save percentage, a career high for any stretch over five games that he has played.
And this past weekend, he was the only reason Michigan managed to escape Madison with five points, rather than three. In Saturday’s contest against Wisconsin, the Wolverines won in a shootout, despite surrendering four goals.
“You should’ve seen him at Wisconsin,” Berenson said. “He stood on his head, and we had no business winning the game based on the chances we gave up.
“That was his best game of the year.”
This has got to be the strangest year for hockey since I've been paying attention. They give up four goals to a very bad Wisconsin team only because their goalie stands on his head; they are on pace for a two-seed.
Etc.: Barry Alvarez apologizes for saying innocuous, accurate thing about UW hockey. Bob Miller on incoming goalie Jack LaFontaine. Jim Harbaugh adopts a kitten. PWO Anthony Kay profiled. Incoming hockeyist Nick Pastujov also profiled.
1/15/2016 – Michigan 5, Ohio State 5 (OT) – 13-3-4, 4-1-2 Big Ten
1/18/2016 – Michigan 8, Ohio State 6 – 14-3-4, 5-1-2 Big Ten
I can't do better describing the alternating waves of euphoria and loathing this hockey season imposes on the fan than this guy who asked a question on twitter:
@mgoblog if this were football would Michigan be Baylor or Indiana?
— Grant Williams (@g_williams_1999) January 18, 2016
I was feeling pretty Indiana as Michigan looked set to drop Sunday's game. Three minutes later I was feeling pretty Baylor as 3-5 turned into 6-5.
The scoreline is everything. If you're up this is one of the most electric Michigan offenses since Brendan Morrison. If you're down this is just another late Berenson team that waddles around wasting its talent with mind-bending defensive breakdowns. Last weekend was a high-amplitude sine wave oscillating from one state to the other.
In the aftermath of an okay weekend we can see that both things are true. Michigan's top line of Motte-Compher-Connor is putting up numbers Michigan hasn't seen since Red's hair was actually red. Connor (18-18-36) is second nationally in PPG. Compher (7-25-32) is fifth. Motte (18-10-28) is tied for thirteenth. Motte and Connor are tied for the national lead in goals per game. If this keeps up someone is going to have to dig through the history books to see where those guys stack up.
Meanwhile someone tweeted out that it was "incredible" that Steve Racine had only given up five goals, and was entirely correct.
— Jeremy Parks (@j_mitchell47) January 17, 2016
That is one period! One period of hockey on skates and everything! Michigan skates five NHL draft picks on defense! Steve Racine has a .906 save percentage and he's kind of a hero!
Michigan was outshot 27-16 in that second period, fell behind by two goals, and proceeded to not allow Ohio State a shot until they had run off four consecutive goals in the first ten minutes of the third. So I dunno man.
So far they've managed to make it work, and as the season progresses their schedule looks less and less like an albatross. Each game Dartmouth wins both helps Michigan's tourney chances and slightly reframes how impressive Michigan's record is. With everything going right—about which more later—Michigan has a very good record against a reasonable schedule. Their RPI SOS is 20th and the rest of the season is split 50/50 between good teams and bad.
They're probably going to make it. Unless they don't. During the second intermission last night I was sure they weren't. I mean, anything can happen at any time. But they've built themselves a buffer here, and seem to be outracing their mistakes. Big Twelve Hockey is now a thing, and it lives in Ann Arbor.
Get in and anything can happen. This used to be a curse; now it feels like hope. Michigan switches between behemoth and bust multiple times a weekend. Indiana or Baylor? Ask again later.
Why did that even happen? For all the rivalry stuff that gets tossed around, OSU games aren't unusually chippy most of the time. The 8-6 series finisher was exceptionally clean throughout, largely because everybody was too busy scoring to hit people. Then all hell breaks loose in the aftermath, including an ugly incident where Cutler Martin punched a defenseless guy on the ice in full view of the world:
— Bill Rapai (@BRapai) January 18, 2016
I can't imagine Martin is going to be available for an important Penn State series after that. There was a bunch of other extracurriculars that might ensnare another player or two as well. All of it came seemingly out of nowhere.
I don't know what to make of the defense. When you're as bad as Michigan was this weekend it's not anything that is traceable to one player, or even the defense corps as a whole. Michigan has breakdowns all game every game from wingers, centers, and defensemen. I kind of thought things were getting fixed during the MSU series, but that was probably just MSU being very bad at hockey.
I do wish we'd held on to Andrew Copp. In retrospect Larkin was never going to stick around since he's an NHL all-star. Copp also went direct to the NHL but has 4 points in 41 games; his defensive abilities would be very welcome on this team.
OSU does not feel like a bad team. The contrast between OSU and MSU couldn't have been greater despite their similar records. Michigan spent half of the Friday game unable to get a clean zone exit because of the OSU forecheck. The Buckeyes are also super aggressive on penalty kills. They made a lot of mistakes in an attempt to control the game; contrast that with MSU's incredibly passive style. One of those styles has upside.
For big stretches of both games OSU took the game to Michigan; Michigan fought back and tilted the ice the other way after settling down and devising adjustments to what OSU was doing. The Buckeyes are very young this year; if they finish the year as strongly as they've played over the last month they could be a team to keep an eye on next year.
Man, Dan Dickerson is good. I'm not really a baseball person but I've heard bits and pieces of Tigers games for years because I'm often tuned to WTKA. Dickerson is their play by play guy, and while he's good it doesn't leap out at you because baseball is a slow, leisurely sport. Dickerson comes off as a very professional but standard baseball guy.
Hearing him do the games this weekend was a revelation. He was outstanding at a completely different variety of sport, one with a ton of things happening one after the other.
Here is a thought: Michigan needs a real play by play guy. Jim Brandstatter is a miscast color guy and I think everyone knows it; Michigan should add Dickerson to the booth. September might be tough but making it work would be good for everyone.
I thought Manny Legace was also good. He does the thing that goalies (in any sport) do where they focus a bit too much on the guy between the pipes, but he had a lot of interesting technical hockey things he related intelligibly.
A shootout doesn't matter to the pairwise so Michigan gets a win and a tie out of the weekend. Michigan slides up to 7th in the rankings. I am pleasantly surprised by this. I thought it would be tough for Michigan to move up much unless they had good weekends against PSU and Minnesota.
Why is this less grim than I was projecting early in the season?
- OSU won its tourney. Wins over BC and Cornell (8-0!) are inexplicable. They also give OSU a huge boost. Whereas before they were hanging out in MSU territory in RPI they're 38th now, ie, worth beating.
- BU has done well. They're 12th in RPI, which give Michigan a quality win bump in addition to helping them out with SOS.
- So has Dartmouth. They've won 5 of 6 and are just inside the top 20.
- Robert Morris is beating up on Atlantic Hockey. They're 21st in RPI, just a hair away from the quality win bump, and should continue that—they have a +32 goal differential in conference.
- The Big Ten is heavily stratified. Both PSU and Minnesota are in the top twenty while OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin cannot buy wins against the top of the league. This helps all three teams with at-large hopes thanks to QWB.
Everything that could go right for Michigan's RPI has over the past few weeks, which has moved Michigan off the bubble despite not having opponents who provide much traction.
Rooting interests remain obvious: for PSU and Minnesota and all of Michigan's nonconference opponents. You should double down on hating MSU—not that you have a problem with that—because they are so low in RPI that soon wins against them will not even count in Michigan's calculations, at which point MSU losses boost the rest of the Big Ten while not impacting M.
Michigan isn't quite at the halfway point of the regular season—that'll come after the GLI. But this is traditionally a point where we stop and take stock. So let's do that.
Despite a 9-3-3 record that looks like it should easily translate to a tourney bid, Michigan sits squarely on the bubble. Michigan is 14th in the Pairwise, which would be just enough to get into the tournament unless there were an unusual number of autobids handed out to teams below them in the rankings. (The problem Michigan would face is that if they need an at-large any non-Penn State Big Ten team would reduce the number of at large bids by one.)
There's good news and bad news. Michigan has played 11 of their 15 games at home, which is a recipe for an underwhelming RPI since the formula was slanted to value road games. Only six of Michigan's final 19 games are at home. While that makes for a pretty miserable season ticket experience, when it comes to RPI it's better to play on the road. So they've got that going for them.
What they do not have going for them is the schedule. Michigan's strength of schedule is currently 27th. It is probably going to get worse. Michigan has 8 or 9 games on the docket against Michigan State and Ohio State, currently 48th and 55th (out of 60) in RPI. Four more games are against Wisconsin, Ferris, and Northern, currently in a block from 34th to 36th. Only Penn State (9th) and Minnesota (20th) offer any counterweight. Tech (23rd) is preferable to MSU in the GLI.
The upshot: if Michigan continues winning at the rate they are winning they're probably going to be smack dab on the bubble late in the season. A 22-7-5 Michigan team is probably going into the Big Ten tournament safe because of the home/road split in the second half, but anything less than that and it's collar-pulling time. Incredibly.
You probably don't want to hear about how disastrous this schedule is again, but, like… yeah. Root for Penn State and Minnesota the rest of the year—RPI gives "quality win" bonuses for teams ranked in the top 20.
Suspensions handed out
So I tweeted that the Downing hit that got him booted from the Saturday game against Minnesota was reputation call. I did not have the benefit of replay, and I was wrong:
Here's the Downing hit on Connor Reilly, he was given the major pic.twitter.com/xwIQJuD3Lr
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 13, 2015
That would have been fine ten years ago, but not today. It was stupid to even attempt, as the upside there is limited. Michigan had dominated Minnesota for the entire second period and had just scored to draw within one. Downing's major not only gave Minnesota a five minute power play, it gave the Gophers an opportunity to catch their breath and recover.
Porikos's hit was the kind of blindside hit hockey started getting rid of after a bunch of skill guys got decleated (deskated?):
Niko Porikos hit on Jack Ramsey pic.twitter.com/llbxj4EmHG
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 13, 2015
I thought that was five and a game live and it almost certainly would have been if Michigan hadn't killed a major penalty about ten minutes of game time earlier.
As a result, Downing will miss the GLI and Porikos will miss the opener. Porikos is easily replaceable; with Michigan also down Zach Werenski on the blue line, Michigan will be a bit thin on the blue line. On the other hand, Downing's predilection for hits like the above and other assorted mental errors means his loss won't be keenly felt. Michigan does have Sam Piazza and Kevin Lohan to step into the holes left.
Michigan is hockey Indiana. They lead the country in scoring offense at 4.5(!) goals a game, and they're 36th in scoring defense. They get away with it more than Indiana does because their schedule is soft and hockey isn't a game like football where you get to take turns with the ball.
Michigan generally dominates attack time, shots… and odd-man-rushes allowed. Nagelvoort got chased by Wisconsin and I didn't think he did anything particularly wrong on any of the eight(!) goals he allowed. Chad Catt saw his first real time and was quickly dunked on by a pass across the slot. Michigan's given up multiple odd-man-rush goals in something like 5 or 6 games this year.
This is a high-variance way to live and leads to things like a loss to Minnesota one night after going for 2 on their touchdown in an 8-3 win, or having to come back from multiple-goal deficits against a bad Wisconsin team on both nights. It's kind of fun, but the specter of the multi-year tourney drought and the fact that every point dropped is another step towards extending it rather sours the mood at times.
A dull but equally good team would be more likely to make the tournament against this schedule since it would just play manball to a bunch of 3-1 wins. The flaming chaos wagon that is the 2015-16 Michigan Wolverines is liable to drop points in a series they end up with a +4 total goals margin.
Really though they should be less rickety
Literally every regular defenseman save Cutler Martin has been drafted. Michigan has a wealth of talent on the blue line that probably 58 NCAA teams would kill for. The one issue is youth—no seniors, three guys who are freshman-aged even if Werenski is a sophomore—but I mean cumong man.
The breakdowns are so widespread that you can't point the finger at any one guy who needs to improve. All of them have made glaring errors at some point this year, including Werenski. He is taking Paul Coffey comparisons to their logical extreme. Downing I kind of expect to do the Downing things—we have nicknamed a shot from the blue line that is blocked by the guy standing directly in front of the shooter a "Downing". I was hoping one or two of the other guys would emerge into Jarrod Wilson types who are boring and you forget about entirely until you look at their +/-. No such luck yet.
That scoring tho
Kyle Connor has been the kind of instant impact rookie that Dylan Larkin was, and he doesn't have quite the amount of help that Larkin did last year. Larkin played with Zach Hyman, who spent much of the year playing at a Hobey level. Connor was until recently matched up with Nieves and Selman, both decent scoring line players. Neither is anywhere near Hyman's level a year ago.
I like the recent move to put Connor with Motte and Compher. Motte and Compher have always played their best when paired together, and you might as well load up that first line as much as possible. Compher isn't scoring a ton but he has a whopping 15 assists this year because he drives play. Not like Hyman—he's not walking off the boards—but he is very good at getting and maintaining effective possession in the offensive zone. The goals will come.
Meanwhile Michigan's next six forwards are also producing. The Warren-Marody-Calderone line has been highly effective. Selman, Kile, and Nieves have all had their moments as well. Having three solid scoring lines despite the departures of Copp and Larkin is a very nice thing to have, especially given the above rickety business.
Michigan picks up a commit from this gentleman:
Proud to announce my commitment to the University of Michigan! Thank you to friends, family and coaches for the help along the way! #GoBlue
— Jack LaFontaine (@jack_lafontaine) December 15, 2015
LaFontaine will come in next year to compete with Catt and Nagelvoort after Racine graduates. He's got a .927 in the NAHL, and as I always mention when NAHL goalies get brought up: goalies come from weird places.
On the Age 20 proposal
College Hockey News collects some additional head coach reactions. I thought this was pretty interesting from the UConn HC:
They say it's a matter of have and have nots and it's only the big schools doing it, and it's not just big schools. If you go on a recruitng web site, some teams have 22 players committed. One team has a player committed for 2020. You have kids committing as (high school) freshmen and the kid doesn't pan out, and they put him off, and now he doesn't wind up going (to that college). So you have this kid because of the silly gentleman's agreement that I'm not in support of for the same reason. I hope (the new proposal) is going to stop of the stockpiling in recruiting.
"How are (the smaller schools) going to get hurt? (Schools that have '95s committed), they'll be 21 years old next year, and every single one of them has been committed for over a year. So they could've taken them now. One of them committed in 2012.
21 year olds entering college hockey have been committed long enough that they certainly could have entered earlier. None of these guys is suddenly on the radar after being passed over several times; schools deliberately delay them. I'm fine with reducing the ability to do that.
The way the Big Ten approached this is far from ideal since the people making the decision will have little or nothing to do with hockey. But it's clear that there is a critical mass of small school head coaches that will stand in the way of anything that hurts their own provincial interests. There is no way to ever get this passed through the regular means. And since the regular means have given us the worst postseason in sports, I have little sympathy for Walt Kyle and friends when someone flips them the bird.
HEY. With searchapalooza over and LeVert out and hockey at least in contention for a bid this year, let's talk about hockey some more.
THE SITUATION. Michigan has put itself in decent shape after a streak in which it's won nine of ten games. Now 13-7, Michigan is 17th in RPI and the Pairwise. To have a chance they'll have to be at least 15th and to feel secure they'd have to hit 12. How many wins that would take is hard to judge. They barely moved after the Minnesota sweep, shot up to 14th with one game over OSU, and now have slid back down to 17 solely because of other teams' activities. It is volatile out there.
A REMINDER. The new jazzed-up RPI is pretty much all that matters. Changes a few years ago have made it very difficult for the Pairwise to deviate from RPI at all:
- there are only three categories
- one is RPI
- one is head to head and a lot of teams don't play each other
- RPI is also the tiebreaker
As a result you have to lose the other two categories to lose a comparison you would otherwise win. That requires losing both head to head and common opponents. This happens very, very infrequently.
THE GOOD NEWS. Michigan's put themselves in a situation where they are more likely to move up rapidly than down. There are four teams behind them within a single point; there are seven ahead of them.
Also, Michigan's heavily away-and-neutral schedule is horrible for fans but good for RPI. One of the tweaks they made a few years back was to weight road wins and home losses at 1.2 and home wins and road losses at 0.8. This is an affront to mathematics—a road win is worth 50% more than home win in a sport with a long-term home win percentage around 55%—and it's hurting Michigan right now since they've played a lot of unfairly devalued home games and not a lot of unfairly valued road games.
Michigan has been trudging through quicksand here despite win after win; the combination of the two above factors means that if they keep the winning up they should get some traction soon.
THE BAD NEWS. The Big Ten is so bad—if the season ended today they would be a one-bid conference like Atlantic Hockey—that Michigan is going to have to win a lot of games to feel anywhere near safe when conference play is over.
Only Minnesota and Penn State have any shot at an at-large, and since to make good on that shot they're going to have to beat the other teams with a shot it looks like the only way the Big Ten gets more than one team in is for one team to run away with the regular season title and then lose in the crapshoot tourney.
The Big Ten is not quite working out like people feared.
THE WISCONSIN NEWS. Michigan's opponent this weekend is shockingly bad. The Badgers have seven NHL draft picks and went 24-11-2 last year; they are currently 2-13-3. They've been outscored 2 to 1 on the season; they have one guy with a positive plus-minus. That is bad.
I would not be surprised if by the end of the year Wisconsin is so bad that even wins over them would lower Michigan's RPI. RPI fixed that a while back by dropping games like that out of the equation entirely (Michigan's wins against American International are already in that category), but even so that means Michigan can't do much other than but go backwards this weekend. A sweep doesn't help much, if at all; anything else provides an anchor in which Wisconsin's schedule becomes a sucking hole in Michigan's SOS.
Irritatingly, Wisconsin is already a problem for Michigan: They took three points from Ferris in a weekend series, beat Michigan Tech one night after losing 8-1, and tied Minnesota last weekend. Each of those non-wins seriously hurts those teams, and by extension Michigan.
The moral of the story: don't expect much.
ROOTING GUIDE. Hold your nose and root for Minnesota the rest of the way. RPI includes a quality win bonus for teams in the top 20 and Michigan has two wins over the Gophers. Also root for Tech and UMass-Lowell, for the same reasons.
Root for Wisconsin to end the season with two wins, because if they are bad enough to get dropped from RPI entirely at the end of the seasons that means they'll have transferred some schedule strength to the rest of the conference, and root for the bubble to collapse.
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.
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.]