I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Basketball Exhibition v. Wayne State. 7PM ET, Crisler Arena. BigTenNetwork.com
After the Wolverines did in John Beilein's second year what they couldn't do in six under Tommy Amaker, expectations for the Michigan basketball team went through the roof. Suddenly, this is a tournament team. Suddenly, it's the #15 team in the country.
At his latest press conference Beilein joked about not being on the wall mural in the Junge Family Champions Center like Rodriguez is. Maybe he should be. If last year's scrappy group started 2 different walk-ons during the year, and made it to the second round, what can this year's edition pull off?
Though Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, and Zack Novak are no longer freshmen, the team still will rely on first year players. Freshman Darius Morris may start at point guard. "His head's swimming like any other freshman," Beilein said, "It would be, I'm sure, what you go through in football when it's a quarterback that's a freshman. Boy, it's really hard."
"He's a good passer and he can score," said junior forward Manny Harris. He also likes defending—maybe a little too much, as he can get into foul trouble.
Classmate Matt Vogrich is known as a shooter, but he has to adjust to the athleticism and size of college defenders. "Being open in high school is a whole lot different than being open in college," he said. Sophomore forward Zack Novak praises his young teammate, saying "Yeah, he can shoot it. There's definitely no question about it. He can really shoot."
Forward Blake McLimans will add some serious size to the frontcourt, at 6-10. As the 11th or 12th player on the bench, he doesn't get as many practice reps as the rest of the team and will probably redshirt.
The other scholarship member of the recruiting class, Jordan Morgan, won't even be able to run full-court as he's coming off a knee surgery. He may not hit the court for Michigan this fall. "If there's any question in my mind, we will redshirt until we burn it," Beilein said, "You can't go the other way now." If Morgan can get healthy by the time the season begins in earnest, he may be a contributor.
Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Anthony Wright, and Zack Gibson are all back in the maize-and-blue jerseys. The first three are only sophomores, and are expected to take a big leap forward in year 2. "You just feel so much more comfortable, knowing what to expect," says Novak. Novak, by the way, looks like a completely different player, replacing extra weight on his body with muscle.
This team will look different than last year's. There are more talented—though not as gritty—options at point guard, and DeShawn Sims won't have to spend the entire season toiling away against the Dallas Lauderdales of the world with Ben Cronin and Zack Gibson around to take some of the burden at center. In what is probably the last season for both Sims and Manny Harris in Ann Arbor, they are the team's leaders. "I mean everyone talks and helps," says Harris, "It ain't like we're the two biggest talkers on the team." Like many great leaders, they prefer to lead by example.
(One grim note: Harris is struggling with a hamstring injury. He doesn't participate in team sprints, and doesn't quite have the explosive moves that he's become known for.)
The season kicks off tonight against Wayne State in an exhibition game at Crisler Arena. It's not unheard of for Division 2 squads to pull off the big upset. Just this week, Lemoyne College knocked off Syracuse. Beilein, a former Dolphins coach, received a text that read "Finally Lemoyne has a good coach."
Joking aside, the Wolverines aren't taking Wayne State lightly. "We do not want to lose this game now," said Beilein, "We're trying to get 9 or 10 guys ready for our first game, which is in a week, so we'll be treating this like a game-like situation, as will Wayne State."
"My expectation for the team is that we're better than a lot of people think we are," says DeShawn Sims, "It's all about winning right now. Everything is about winning." Every great journey starts with a first step. For the 2009-10 Wolverine basketball team, that step comes tonight.
Darius Morris had already picked up a 40 of 40 on his second dunk, which you can also see at Dylan's site, but the Novak dunk ended with various members of the women's team—who were the judges—attempting to give him all of their score placards. So he got like 160 points. Nice points, Novak.
I had to duck out before the scrimmages, so I don't have much else to add about the event. It was worth having and I hope Michigan continues it, though next time maybe the introductions can go much, much quicker?
SIDE NOTE: Hey, remember this from the Iowa recap?
This disaster was played incessantly over the PA, and we, not being 14-year-old-girls, didn't know what it was. Friend of Blog joked that it was probably a Jonas Brothers song, and we laughed, and then we thought to ourselves IS that a Jonas Brothers song? It turns out no, but it's by the Black Eyed Peas, which is 95% as emasculating. Hell, this imeem playlist by one Shelby Veppert, who—no foolies—is a 19-year old from Columbus who lists Nickelback(!!!) as one of her favorite bands, has the song sandwiched between two Jonas Brothers songs. If Michigan Stadium ever has anything that can be considered a sort of theme song I'm going to buy out Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork, and if it's ever something as terrifyingly fey as that thing, I'll storm the castle myself.
Guess what fey, awful disaster of a song was used for the pre-festivities hype video? I've got my torch. Who's coming with me as we storm the guy in the Michigan marketing department who picks the music, find out he's Seth Green's character from
Ten Things I Hate About You Can't Hardly Wait, and mail him to a former Soviet republic? Anybody?
TWIS addendum. Aaaaargh. I thought I had plenty of Ohio State material ("It's not easy being an Ohio State fan. No wonder we're a drunken army of idiots.") for This Week In Schadenfreude, and I did, but if I had checked BHGP before I threw it to my editor I would have included this guy four or five times:
Seriously. Seriously: watch this bucktard. Seriously. He challenges Pryor to a fight. Call Pryor whatever you want—Darko in cleats, arm punter, murder condoner, guy with emotional problems—but there is no way he can't beat the holy hell out of a skinny white dude with a soul patch. And that's not even considering Eleven Warriors' withering Purdue recap:
I mentioned it last week and feel compelled to bring it up again: Could it be that Pryor simply doesn’t have the necessary mental skills to play QB at the major college level? All we hear is how hard he works in the film room blah blah blah but the end result thus far is a QB just as inconsistent in all phases of the game as last year.
The new wrinkle this week to the TP-Trainwreck was of course the ridiculous comments he made about the offense being ready to explode. Uh, I suppose he meant implode. Here’s a sampling of his mind-numbing handiwork yesterday. It’s like deja vu all over again. And I’m supposed to be happy he’s here for another 2.5 years?
Holy crap, man. I've been bringing up Ohio State's gaping backup QB hole for a year and a half now, but the hope I held out for an OSU implosion at the position always assumed the disaster would befall OSU in the event of an injury to DiC. This sort of meltdown was a distant possibility harbored in the deepest hearts of Michigan fans, prevented from surfacing because merely speaking the hope would result in Pryor going all Troy Smith on Michigan.
…Which is still a possibility. At this point in Smith's sophomore year he was running for more yards than he passed for and looking a lot like Denard Robinson does right now minus the world-class speed. I'm not ready to bury Pryor yet.
Inside-outside. I already pulled out Chris Brown's explanation of the differences between the inside and outside zone plays last week, but he's expanded his thinking into a full post on his home site that's worth checking out if you're into that sort of thing. I'll try to use that information going forward, though the way Brown describes it the differences are so subtle it might be hard to determine what's what.
One coaching point people have offered up this year during my attempts to discern one play from the other: the thing you want to look at is the alignment of the QB relative to the RB. If they're about even, that's going to be a stretch play. If the QB is a yard or so in front of the tailback, that's usually because the RB's angle is going to be more upfield because the play is an inside zone or other quick-hitting run that aims to punish the opponent for overpursuing on the stretch. It's sort of like a mini version of the pistol, if that makes sense.
A series of high-level discussions took place this summer about the creation of a new men's hockey league featuring the five Big Ten Conference members that sponsor the sport.
But despite support for the endeavor from multiple schools, including the University of Wisconsin, the concept failed to extend beyond the exploratory stage.
Minnesota was against it, Ohio State and Wisconsin for, it and Michigan and Michigan State "brought open minds" to the summer talks, whatever that means.
There are some obvious problems with a Big Ten Hockey conference. With only five teams sponsoring the sport, a BTHC would fall one short of the minimum necessary to garner an NCAA auto-bid (not that the schools in the conference would need one), and one short of conference requirements to sponsor a sport. Unless the prospect of a Big Ten conference would spur Penn State or Illinois to go varsity, it's a non-starter. And as discussed here whenever the topic comes up, Minnesota is the beating heart of the WCHA and is loathe to give up longtime rivalries against a zillion instate schools and, most importantly, North Dakota.
On the other hand, a Big Ten conference would break the current logjam that sees college hockey virtually unable to expand because each conference is full. The remainder of the WCHA would be a highly viable conference, with UND, CC, and Denver all national powers and teams like UMD, SCSU, and even Minnesota-Mankato tourney contenders on a regular basis. Add in UNO with Dean Blais and that's still a strong conference. A CCHA without Michigan and Michigan State would be considerably more rickety, but the recent emergence of Miami and Notre Dame as powers gives the league something to stand on, and a small Big Ten conference would provide a ton of nonconference opportunities for the departed programs to throw around to local schools.
If a Big Ten hockey conference is not in the cards, another crazy move might be:
Multiple college hockey sources said UW officials responded to the slowing of the talks by making it known they would consider moving to the CCHA.
Oh no, Corso!
Frazier acknowledged that UW would be a "jewel'' for the CCHA, but he denied such rhetoric, saying, "We're loyal to the WCHA."
…Asked about the notion, Alvarez said men's coach Mike Eaves wasn't interested in changing leagues. "If Mike's not interested, I'm not interested,'' Alvarez said. "I'd be interested in other things. As I've said before, regionalizing hockey makes sense.''
My head is spinning here.
“I was trying to get in at wideout, too, to be honest, but it didn’t work,” Cone said. “I took a couple (reps in practice) a couple weeks ago just because I’m tall, but they gotta get some more confidence in me first.”
Okay. Carry on with your life.
1/9/2009 – Michigan 5, Miami 1 – 14-7, 9-5 CCHA
1/10/2009 – Michigan 64, Iowa 49 – 13-3, 3-1 Big Ten
1/10/2009 – Michigan 4, Miami 0, 15-7, 10-5 CCHA
So one of the parents in the Miami student section forlornly held the above banner aloft throughout Michigan's 5-1 asskicking on Saturday. About halfway through someone told her she was making an idiot of herself and she pointed it the right way, but it was too late: Fun With Palindromes was born.
Hello, weekend. You start late but finish smoooooth. Three Michigan sporting events lead to three blowouts, two of them absolutely critical, and it's all endorphins. I find it really hard to write columns I think are worthy of the "column-type thing" tag week in and week out during the longer and less intense hockey and basketball seasons, so this one's an assemblage of bullets.
Hell, yes. Michigan got a little lucky this weekend when Miami lost Carter Camper and Justin Mercier, their #1 and #3 scorers, for the Sunday matinee, but 9-1 over the course of the weekend brooks no serious "buts." Michigan owned the Redhawks, flat out, and that's a huge step forward from their series earlier in the year when it was the Wolverines scraping one goal across 120 minutes.
Michigan is still way, way behind Notre Dame in the race for the CCHA title, but they cleared one huge hurdle with that sweep. Sweep ND in a home-and-home in three weeks and Michigan is six back—assuming equal points in the next four—but with two in hand. That's a hill to climb; it's doable, though.
More realistically, the sweep puts Michigan in a strong position to finish top-four in conference and get a first round bye; it also will be very helpful at the end of the year when the pairwise somewhat arbitrarily hews the weak from the strong and assembles a tournament field. The PWR is still extremely unstable—even at the end of the year it's moderately unstable—but at the moment Michigan is a shocking sixth despite their rough start. If only Miami hadn't gacked away its holiday tourney despite outshooting their opponents by about 3-1 each night.
Hogan. This weekend was the first during which I felt Hogan seemed a superior alternative to Sauer. Lost amongst the Mingo-witnessed flurry of goals on Saturday was Hogan's solid play on a number of quality Miami chances that kept the door shut; that game could easily have been 3-3 after five minutes instead of 3-0. On Sunday Hogan didn't have a lot of rubber but when Michigan led 1-0 he made an outstanding stop moving side to side by closing the five-hole.
Yost Built mentioned this:
He's not remotely flashy, but he goes out and wins. Also, he hasn't given up a soft goal since the game at Munn over a month ago. Then again, he's only given up two goals since that game at Munn, which is kind of awesome.
Yes. Hogan was giving up a soft-ish goal per game early in the year, and now he's not, at all. I think that's at least somewhat luck; it's not all luck.
Skaters. I was feeling very good about calling Brandon Burlon the breakout player of the second half when he had a goal and an assist five minutes into the weekend, but did anyone else think the rest of his Saturday was kind of rough? Miami's heavy forechecking forced a lot of turnovers out of him, and the rest of the team. On Sunday it appeared that Michigan had figured it out (or Miami was tired or losing Camper and Mercier was a death blow) and was breaking the zone with ease; on Saturday there were a lot of ugly turnovers.
The other guy who leapt out did so on the penalty kill: Tim Miller, who got multiple standing ovations whilst sucking away Miami PP time in the corners. He would have had a great shorthanded goal if Langseth hadn't taken it away, which Miller was still bitching at him about as the team left the ice on Sunday. Miller was making a hockey stop as the pass came across the ice and deflected the puck into the net, a situation that is explicitly allowed by the change in the rule:
To make this rule as clear as possible, the group proposed adjustments to its rules that will allow all goals scored as a result of deflections. This will include deflections off an attacking player who is in the act of stopping, provided neither skate is used to direct the puck into the net. Pucks that are directed or kicked with the skate moving toward the goal will not be allowed.
Yost Built saw the thing many times on replay and sayeth:
Now, I can't remember how the rule reads, since I'm pretty sure they changed it after the title game last season. If the puck can't hit off a skate and go into the net at all anymore, then it was the right call, and just a stupid rule. If it's allowed to hit your skate and you just can't kick it, then it was a terrible call.
The rulebook sayeth: terrible call. Note: this is the second straight year Langseth cost Michigan a goal against Miami.
I bet this seemed like a good idea at the time. The program for the Miami game was very fussy about what you can call Miami of Oh—
Who's up for never calling Miami anything but Miami of Ohio (Not That Miami Of Ohio)? This guy.
Strategy. Here's a tip I've picked up from the local scribes: if a team completely destroys a respectable opponent mere days after you question how good they are, claim it was your criticism that focused them, forging them into the towers of steel they became. Y'all can thank yrs truly for that performance.
More seriously: yes, that was more like it. Michigan made a concerted effort to go inside to Sims, and though the reward was a lot of shots that went down and then infuriatingly rimmed out, the overall quality of looks they got was greatly increased.
One downer, and I again hate to bring this up given the box score, but I didn't like Manny's game in this one much more than I did in the other Big Ten games. He took four three-pointers, each of them with a hand in his face when he just decided to chuck instead of drive, and a lot of his offense came off of turnovers. Take those away and his shooting percentage dips precipitously. OTOH: Harris was super-active in the passing lanes and was the cause of at least four Iowa turnovers that turned into fast-break buckets, mostly by Harris.
I just worry what happens to his offensive efficiency when the opponent isn't as generous, is all. He has not been effective in the halfcourt in conference play.
Stu and Zack. The relative stars of the two Indiana freshmen have crossed since it looked like Douglass was going to be a gritty, tough-nosed gym rat with a high basketball IQ and Novak couldn't buy a bucket. Now it's Novak destined for vaguely uncomfortable praise and Douglass who looks like he'll be in a battle for playing time when Vogrich and Morris arrive (and, hopefully, no one leaves unexpectedly).
This is a really easy observation to make after Douglass took a couple threes from 27 feet and seemed largely responsible for Iowa's garbage-time comeback, but sometimes you have to pick the low-hanging fruit. Douglass' basketball IQ doesn't seem particularly high.
Or, rather, it seems wildly variable. He made two excellent passes in this game, and seems to thread a needle or throw an accurate bounce pass on the break just about every time he gets an opportunity; he also made a great cut to the basket when Novak was trapped and got a layup for his troubles. His future is up in the air. If Good Stu wins I think he can be a significant role player the next couple years and a solid starter as a senior. If Evil, 27-Footer-Chucking Stu wins he's likely to get the Shepherd treatment.
Novak, on the other hand, is the unathletic white guy who actually deserves the "he's white!" praise that will no doubt be heaped on him the next three and a half years. He harasses people into bad decisions, rebounds very well, and does—ugh—the little things that don't show up on the box score.
Great, now I have to take a shower to wash off the sportswriter cliche.
Wha? That was a charge on Manny—you know what I'm talking about—and a blocking foul on Gibson—you also know what I'm talking about. Not like it mattered, but, man… Big Ten referees, folks. Also, what was with the foul on the follow-through of a Novak three that wasn't a shooting foul? Have you ever seen that before? Will you ever see it again?
The near future. With Michigan's two must-wins against the lower echelon of the Big Ten out of the way, they've got a tough road game against Illinois that seems like a freebie. Win and that's great. Lose and, okay, you're still on track.
After that, though, is four game stretch with two against a struggling, depleted Ohio State team that seems NIT caliber at best and one each against Northwestern and Penn State. 3-1 is good, but 2-2 against those four teams with a fairly daunting homestretch (Purdue x2, MSU, UConn, Minn x2, @ Wisconsin with PSU, NW, and Iowa sprinkled in) and it'll be touch and go. I expect/hope they'll be 6-3 in conference at the midway mark.
1/4/2009 – Michigan 74, Illinois 64 – 11-3, 1-1 Big Ten
With a couple minutes left in Saturday's game against Illinois the Illini brought the ball up down four. Even with the students absent, Crisler fairly buzzed with nervous anticipation at a critical juncture. Michigan went to man; Laval Lucas-Perry moved up to take the point guard on as he crossed midcourt.
Lucas-Perry was afforded a moment in the window provided by Illinois setting a play, and used it to smile, big and toothy, before returning to the task at hand.
The thing that jumped out the most in the pre-game was basically the same thing: DeShawn Sims smiling wide before he was introduced as the starter, then settling down to business. After the shell-shock of last year, of the last ten years, it seems that Michigan players are periodically struck by the thought "hey… this is fun!"
Fans, too. When Zack Gibson saw a vacated lane late in the shot clock and beat Illinois' lumbering center off the dribble and threw it down, everyone roared and I looked around me to make sure there were 10,000 people who also saw that. And I saw people smiling, shocked and pleased and I just can't tell you what else because what in the hell is going on?
In the next timeout, Eric Puls came up behind Gibson and put a towel on his shoulders like he was a prizefighter. Gibson tried, with only moderate success, to look nonchalant about the whole thing.
So here we are, two games into the Big Ten season and 1-1. The Illinois game was critical. Start off 0-2 at home in a league where friendly confines matter way too much and it's a tough slog to get to the 9-9 that puts you on the bubble (unless Michigan upsets UConn, in which case 9-9 is a solid berth). It's still a tough slog, but one that looks doable.
The danger of Michigan's wildly divergent nonconference schedule, which had four tough games and then cupcake city, baby(!) was that the UCLA and Duke games were extreme outliers and the game-in, game-out performance of the team would just not be good enough to claw into the top half of the Big Ten. A couple games later, that chance is more remote. Not a whole lot more remote, but they're at least in the class of teams like Wisconsin and Illinois and should be clearly better than the Indiana/Iowa/Northwestern/Penn State collection of teams towards the bottom of the conference.
Not that they won't lose a game or maybe two to that set of four teams, but if they go 6-1 against those guys they need find only two more wins against the rest of the conference to get to .500, and 3 to get to what must be a tourney-clinching 10-8. Baby steps, always.
- The observations about teeth were made possible by the students' winter break; that allowed yrs truly to sit in the second row behind the Michigan bench.
Unfortunately the ambient noise (WHO WANTS A FREE TEEEEEE SHIRT) of Crisler drowned out what Beilein was saying during commercial breaks and timeouts, but I did catch a couple things.
One: about midway through the first half DeShawn Sims pulls down an offensive rebound and goes back up with it, getting hacked from behind; no call. Illinois takes the transition opportunity down and scores. There's a timeout on the floor and Sims goes to the ref, declaring what just happened to be "bullshit". Beilein yanks him immediately, and chews him out—sort of, he's not exactly Bob Knight—about this being the second consecutive game he's done that and Michigan can't afford for him to get a technical every time the refs blow a call. (Word to that, yo. Michigan would give up 20 technical free throws a game and finish with just Eric Puls on the court.)
Two: every time Michigan would give up a bucket in the 1-3-1 in the first half, Beilein would explain to the bench what went wrong. "You've got to get up in that guy to prevent the skip," etc. etc. etc.
- Sitting close to the bench gave me some insight into the value of Merritt and Lee: they were chatty organizers on defense whenever in the game and (in Lee's case, from the bench), shouting out instructions and generally attempting to make Michigan's array of switches work.
- Speaking of which: it looked like Michigan's man to man has given up on the idea of fighting through screens and just switches all the time. Makes sense when you've got four guys basically the same size on the court, but it also leads to some awkward incidents where Kelvin Grady is under the basket checking a 6'6" guy. This ended poorly.
- Manny alternated some rough possessions with his usual slithering to the bucket. His three-point shooting was pretty rough, and he's got to be a little more aware of when to kick out. Too many tough shots and turnovers so far.
- The above-picture dunk wasn't Gibson's only thunderous finish of the day, but on his first dunk he overestimated his athleticism and nearly killed himself. Ball still went in.
As long as we're on the subject: Gibson's always been shockingly good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim when the lane gets vacated. He's too slow to do it most of the time, as he'll pick up a charge if there's anyone to rotate, but, man, as soon as he put the ball on the floor I was like "this is going to be a gumpy white guy dunk."
- Novak has won a lot of minutes, and deservedly, but what happened to Jevohn Shepherd? Shepherd was playing pretty well in the nonconference portion of the schedule and provides much-needed size and defense to Michigan's normally Lilliputian lineup. Surely he can pick up ten minutes spotting Harris and Novak?
- Good to see LLP taking some guys off the dribble; hopefully as he gets more comfortable we'll see an increasingly diverse game from him.