he grew a beard
3/13/2009 – Michigan 5, Western Michigan 2 – 27-10-0, 20-8 CCHA
3/14/2009 – Michigan 6, Western Michigan 1 – 28-10-0, 20-8 CCHA
This weekend's hockey series featured huge stretches of play so dominating that the above scoreboard resulted. That is the beginning of the first intermission. Michigan has three goals and 21 shots. Western has zero goals and zero shots.
Western's first shot would come at the beginning of the second when a Bronco forward, clearly instructed to get Western on the board, took a slapper from outside the blueline. It was going high, but they counted it anyway. The next shot was a clearance that dribbled in on Hogan, again from outside the blueline. That counted too: Michigan's official scorer was giving Hogan the full Jeff Lerg treatment out of pity to the visitors. By my count, the first actual shot Western launched on Hogan—certainly the first that originated from the offensive zone—came with 15:40 left in the second.
It was that kind of weekend. Total shots: 103 for Michigan and 41 for Western. Only Riley Gill's best Dominic Hasek impression kept Western from ceding 20 goals on the weekend.
So, again: this team is pretty freakin' good. They've pushed their recent non-crazy-goal-controversy record out to 19-1 since late November. Mark Mitera has been making excellent outlet passes and hasn't seemed out of place since an error that lead to Ferris State's first and only goal of the Friday game two weeks ago. They were 15-1 in NCGC games before they added last year's defenseman of the year. They're scratching an NHL draft pick every night. Our third defense pairing is either Steve Kampfer and Brandon Burlon or Tristin Llewellyn and Chris Summers, either of which pairings would be the #1 pair for any CCHA team other than Notre Dame.
When Michigan did anything other than dominate it was more because they were bored and hadn't spent any time in the defensive zone in two weeks and weren't quite sure what you were supposed to do. I am a little concerned that Michigan spends 80% of its time in the offensive zone because it leads to breakdowns and carelessness in their own end. This is a pretty good concern to have, all things considered.
Bullets Western left in the chamber:
- Holy crap was Carl Hagelin out of his mind this weekend. He singlehandedly dominated the penalty-kill, skated through the opposition like it wasn't there, and did his usual demonic backchecking. The Friday night ENG was justice for an outstanding performance. Two borks up.
- Northern Michigan upset Miami to reach the Joe, which improves Michigan's draw (they get Alaska) but hurts them in other ways: Michigan's SOS goes down as they played Miami four times, and Northern is now a TUC which brings M's 1-1 record against them into play.
- We wanted OSU to win the other series; they did not. Bizarrely, since we play now Alaska we want them to stay a TUC if we beat them since 2-1 is good for our overall percentage in that category.
- It doesn't hurt Michigan nearly as much as it does Miami, which is now the final team in the tourney and is vulnerable to an unexpected winner in any of the power conferences.
- I deeply regret that we were not allowed to trade Scooter and a recruit to be named later for Gill's services during the playoff run. That guy was insane both nights, which brings his record for insanity at Yost up to 3/3 on the year, as he was insane in a game Michigan totally dominated and contrived to lose 2-1 when Western conjured two late goals out of deflections and screening. About halfway through the Saturday game people around me started chanting "goalie-goalie" during the Temptation goalie-sieve chant, and, like, yeah. At some point Gill flat robbed Aaron Palushaj to the point where he was compelled to explain just how the hell the puck didn't go in the net to his linemates.
Gill's got a .920 save percentage, which is impressive but only 17th nationally. In context it's astounding, though. This is Western Michigan we're talking about here, always the worst defensive team in the league under Jim Culhane. He probably sees more grade-A rubber in a game than one of Mason's pedestrian .940 guys (Alban, Blackburn, etc) saw in a year; every Western goalie I've ever checked stats of is languishing around .885 or something. I'm sure Alaska's Chad Johnson is pretty good with his .939, but, man, how did Gill get left off the All CCHA Team for Jeff Lerg?
- Hey: they finally got a goal review right! Michigan's third-period goal to go up 4-2 was waved off by McInchak for no apparent reason—it was a virtual replay of the waved off OSU goal—but reviewed and declared good, largely because Shegos got in the box and was like "dude, that's his chest." Good on you, Shegos. Also, the look on Shegos' face—"not this s--- again"—was priceless.
- Last time we saw Shegos, by the way, he was with Langseth. This time no Langseth. Did he get busted down to linesman again? Or did they just tighten the crews because there were only four series to do this weekend instead of the usual six?
- I don't think we can pass ND, but I'll check.
Bubblin'. Both results last night went Michigan's way, with Gonzaga stomping St Mary's and Siena beating Niagara; St Mary's is now a bubble compatriot of Michigan's and the MAAC is a one-bid league. Diverse alarums. Lundardi, for one, has the Gaels as the second team out—Creighton is first. Did I dismiss their chances too quickly? Eh… even with an M loss to Iowa Creighton can make up no ground and you'd think would get slotted in after M. Probably. Who knows?
Back to St Mary's. Bracketology 101 on the Gaels:
We are sticking with the Gaels for at least one more day. We still like their OOC wins against fellow bubble teams Providence and San Diego State and their Bracketbuster win over Utah State. We also think there's a slight chance the committee takes a flier on them based on how they played early in the year before Mills got hurt and, potentially, based on how Mills looks against Eastern Washington on Friday. We bumped the Gaels down to a 13 seed in today's bracket, which means they are very, very thin ice. If there are any other mid-major bid stealers (Cleveland State tonight?) or if there are any other upsets in the big conference tournies, St. Mary's will be the first team to go.
Is Michigan ahead of St Mary's with an Iowa loss? Eh… probably, but the Mills thing makes them hugely variable.
As for today's viewing schedule, ESPN is so down on the Big East trio that it lists no relevant games even though Georgetown, ND and Cincinnati are in action. Aaaand Cinci just lost to Depaul, so maybe they're right to be skeptical.
There is one game with obviously huge implications: Butler and Cleveland State face off in the Horizon* League final at 9:00 PM. Butler is in either way and Cleveland State is looking to steal a second bid for the Horizon; you're very heavily in favor of the Bulldogs. Oakland also takes on North Dakota State with a Summit League bid on the line, if you want to get your granfalloon action on.
*Note! Not only does the "MidCon" conference not even exist anymore, Butler was never in it and is currently in the Horizon League. Mea culpa to the two annoyed emailers.
In the long annals of sports opinion, this might be the worst idea ever recorded:
If the goal is to have the very best teams playing for the national championship in a balanced national tournament, and to have an eye on providing a chance to the very best mid-major teams, expanding the field is not the answer. The answer lies in shifting the automatic bids to the best teams in the country.
That's Jay Bilas, and let's just leave aside all the Manny Harris elbow stuff and Tommy Amaker stuff as we attempt to wrap our heads around this fantastic idea: get rid of automatic bids. Bilas spends 1151 words on this idea, beginning with the premise that "more good teams play in Division I than ever before"—what does that even mean?—and arriving at the conclusion that the problem with Creighton or Penn State is the SWAC.
No, a thousand times no. One: the goal is not to have the "very best teams playing for the national championship in a balanced national tournament." If that was really the goal the tournament would be about eight teams and would have a round-robin format, or something. The NCAA tournament is a chaotic single-elimination mess and an obviously unfair system for determining a champion. But it is so damn fun that people reasonably overlook its flaws.
More than that, the autobids help lessen the flaws. A national championship tournament that includes this many teams is kind of a dumb idea. It will be apparent from the moment that the bracket is selected that 40 or 50 teams in it are obviously not the best teams in the country. A number of no- or little- hope bids actually makes it less of a dumb idea. One way to make a singe elimination tournament less unfair and stupid is to bias it in favor of the teams who did very well during the regular season. Including a bunch of conference champions who would otherwise not be in the field otherwise provides greater motivation to get a protected seed.
I mean, never ever has a 1 gone down to a 16, and a 15 over a 2 is really rare. But once you get into the 3, 4, 5 range you know some of those teams are getting lead pipes to the head. In the Bilas system you'd be replacing those no-hopers at the end of the field with, like, Penn State, and significantly reducing the reward for having a kickin' regular season.
So even if you are a heartless lawyer robot like Bilas—who says the argument against his position is a "sentimental one," which is another way of saying "I hate puppies and fun and sunshine"—the straggling autobids at the end of the field help make the bracket less of a mockery of the regular season and should be kept even if, you know…
…you'd watch Bucknell versus Kansas and think to yourself "goddammit why isn't a below .500 major conference team in this game?"
Bilas does frame his post by arguing that dumping autobids would get the best mid-majors in more—St Mary's and Creighton wouldn't be biting their fingernails to the nub if there were no autobids—but really, that's not the point. Really, really not the point.
Everything you ever didn't want to know about the pairwise. Western College Hockey has an overview of college hockey's rigid and kind of crappy selection system, and I winced when I read this sentence:
Proponents of this system argue there is no cliff because the system is designed to only be looked at once, at the end of the season, and thus, there are no fluctuations, but regardless, teams still gain a disproportionate benefit if a team they beat ends up 25th rather than 26th.
Only one person argues something that stupid: a poster on USCHO named "ScoobyDoo" who has some five-digit-and-rising post count and who descends on any thread about how the pairwise is deeply flawed—which it is—and expounds dumbly like that.
By the way: Michigan returns to action this weekend against Western Michigan. Outside of that series you are rooting against Notre Dame and Alaska. Here's the TUC cliff in action: Alaska is currently the 25th and last team to be counted as a TUC. If Alaska loses its series against Ohio State, they're extremely likely to drop out of consideration; with them will go ND's 2-0 and M's 1-1 record against the Nanooks. Both of those are very good for Michigan, as if that happens ND will be vulnerable at the Joe.
2/27/2009 – Michigan 6, Ferris State 1 – 25-10, 19-8 CCHA
2/28/2009 – Michigan 4, Ferris State 0 – 26-10, 20-8 CCHA
Everyone held serve this weekend, with Michigan and Notre Dame both sweeping inferior opponents. The critical comparison remains as grim as it was last week (PWR rankings from Sioux Sports, as usual):
I could break every category down in detail, or I could just give you the upshot: Notre Dame basically has a two-game lead on Michigan. If they bomb out of the CCHA playoffs in the second round Michigan can pass them. That's unlikely. The best team they could face in the second round is UNO, which has a –14 goal differential compared to ND's +43. The other option is for ND to lose twice at the Joe while Michigan wins the CCHA, which is more plausible but still a slim window.
So it's best to just accept the fact that Michigan is either a 2-seed or getting shipped.
Compounding the bad vibes is Denver's flight up into a tie with Michigan despite 1) being way back in RPI and 2) splitting this weekend. DU got a lot of fortunate results around the TUC cliff and now owns that point along with common opponents, which overrules the, you know, season. So they win that comparison with Michigan and are currently the #3 overall seed with Michigan slipping to #4. With nine relevant games sitting in the last four RPI slots, this comparison is going to be hugely unstable until the end of the season.
Slipping to the last #1 seed doesn't really matter, as any spot behind ND results in getting shipped and PWR's just going to throw up some random stuff at the end when it comes to the brackets.
The Whole Situation
Michigan's PWR status by category (some "lock win" teams may not be TUCs at the end of the season but Michigan will win the comparison with whoever replaces them):
- Lock Wins: Air Force, Alaska, BC, Cornell, Lowell, CC, Minnesota, UMD, Mankato, UNH, North Dakota, OSU, Princeton, RIT, SCSU, St Lawrence, Wisconsin, Yale
- Lean Michigan: Miami, Northeastern, Vermont
- Tossup: Denver
- Lean Opponent: ND
- Lock Losses: BU
Okay, that's a pretty good situation. Michigan is guaranteed to be at least a #2 seed and it'll take some doing to not be a #1:
- Miami has basically lost the M comparison if Michigan sweeps its first-round playoff opponent; even a head-to-head victory wouldn't be enough to move things since H2H games don't count in either of the other categories. This is a near-lock.
- Vermont has COP but is well back in TUC and about a game and a half back in RPI.
- Northeastern loses COP and it would take some fortunate playoff matchups for any chance of that changing; they'd have to sweep BC to take TUC and that would remain precarious depending on the results of conference tourneys.
The upshot: unless Michigan fails to make or gets swept at the Joe, the only thing that can prevent M from being a one-seed is sustained hot streaks from Northeastern and Denver coupled with unfavorable results near the TUC cliff. They have a one-game lead, basically, with few opportunities to lose it.
Things That Aren't Math
It's worth noting that since Michigan finished trundling to a 9-7 start, they've caught fire. They're 17-3 since, and two of the losses were one goal games featuring not one but two obviously incorrect decisions on goals. Michigan dominated those games, outshooting ND 38-22 and Ohio State 37-25. The only game that Michigan has just straight-up lost since November was, bizarrely, a home game against last-place Bowling Green.
And they did all that without Mark Mitera, the captain and last year's INCH defenseman of the year. Mitera returned to the ice this weekend and put up two points. Even if he was rusty—and though I didn't see the game @ Ferris most commenters at USCHO said he was to blame for the lone Bulldog goal of the weekend—he's got three weeks to round into shape before the NCAA tournament arrives.
So… yeah. It appears this team is in position almost as good as last year's team to make the Frozen Four and, hopefully, break the painful streak of semifinal exits. Though they don't have the elite All-American sorts on the top line they did last year, they're fast and tough defensively and almost unbelievably deep on the blueline. My excitement levels are getting dangerously high. I worry about what happens if Michigan goes down a goal without a Hensick sort on the team, but 17-3 with an asterisk is 17-3 with an asterisk. One team in twenty has outplayed Michigan. One.
Amateur Barwis Porn. MGoBoard denizens are ahead of the curve on this, but Jeremy Gallon has a number of videos up that document parts of his Michigan official visit, and they're pretty cool. Here's the legendary "you can't do this" Barwis pushup we've heard so much about:
Not that you didn't know this already. Michael Spath talked to Red about the ficky-ficking against Ohio State on Saturday:
He also took about five minutes to rip the hell out of the replay system and the CCHA officials. He's very aware of what the two games (ND and OSU) could end up costing his team in the long run. But while he wants to see wholesale changes to the replay system he doesn't know that it will change because enough programs (ones that don't get TV often) probably wouldn't benefit from introducing new technology.
The other main topic of Red's press conference was the availability of Mark Mitera. Michigan's captain appears to be a go this weekend:
"I'm expecting that he'll play this weekend, but we're going to go day-to-day now that we're down to the last week," Berenson said after practice. "I'm looking at it as if he'll play. Gonna put him in a defensive rotation (Tuesday), and we'll see how he looks as the week goes on."
Also, Brian Lebler was injured Saturday—it's a shoulder thing—but is practicing and is day-to-day for the Ferris series.
A pairwise note. the Hoover Street Rag caught something I didn't when I surveyed the situation:
Miami has a better record, but since they haven't reached the 10-win threshold (when the head-to-head series is taken out) it isn't counted. This weekend, they play OSU. A team under consideration. If they sweep, they win the category and the comparison, even if we sweep Ferris State.
Michigan would have an opportunity to take the comparison back by doing better than Miami in the CCHA tournament, as unless Michigan and Miami are upset they're schedule to meet in the semifinal.
Er, really? The topic of a ninth Big Ten game will not die:
"That was a discussion that may move forward," Alvarez said. "We've discussed nine games. That will be something we'll probably take to the coaches."
The ADs are aware that 9 X 11 = 99 and 99 can't be divided by two; one team would only play eight Big Ten games. This would be absolute chaos if one of those teams was locked into the Big Ten title race, though. If one team is 8-0 and the other is 9-0, who's the champ? If one team is 8-1 and the other is 7-1, who's the champ? I just can't see that working out.
My best effort to a workable system: All league schedules are set just like they are now with the exception of one particular week. This week is kept clear until the previous season ends. The last place team in the league gets matched with a pre-arranged MAC opponent. They probably wouldn't mind, as they would have an easier path to bowl eligibility.
At this point you have ten teams in two groups:
- 2 teams not scheduled to play the last-place team.
- 8 teams with the last place team on the schedule.
The group of two have one and only one available option for their ninth game and get matched up with that option. The other six (or eight) teams get randomly matched up with one of the two teams they miss, with an emphasis on 1) variety and 2) fairly balancing home and away. I don't think it would work out exactly right every year, but the differences would be pretty small.
You are then hoping there are no worst-to-first miracle seasons, or you're putting in some sort of emergency championship game in the event that happens, or you're actually counting this MAC game in the conference standings, or you're just fine with making a mockery of the championship. I'd love to see a ninth conference game—I'd love to see anything other than Wisconsin-Cal Poly, really—but it just doesn't work.