...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
2/23/2010 – Michigan 52, Wisconsin 53 – 17-12, 7-9 Big Ten
For a while, the house we lived in—1331 Geddes, AKA "the Unlucky Palindrome," the purple-doored white house almost but not quite right next to the CCRB—had a fairly sizeable hole in the wall. Raffi's hip put it there. I put Raffi's hip there with a sort of flying tackle.
After this we were both on the ground. This was Raffi's territory. He has cerebral palsy, which means he can't walk that well or supinate his hands—he got around with the aid of crutches. As a result his arms were thick, meaty bludgeons. Since I'd just delivered a wall-shattering flying tackle to a guy who can't walk very well he used them to hit me, hard. It hurt.
This was "man fun." It was a semi-regular occurrence when someone had been studying too long or just felt like delivering a flying tackle. You would pick an available person and hurt them, and they would hurt you, and everyone would laugh.
Watching a freshman shooting 28% from three missing his buzzer-beater badly enough to make it was like absorbing one of Raffi's flat, heavy blows. I'd never witnessed something like that in person, and… yeah. Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But I'm not upset in the aftermath despite this being objectively worse than the Evan Turner half-court dagger last year. Last year's team was under .500, a miserable disappointment after being ranked #15 before the season. Even Michigan fans who thought that was a bit much didn't expect the massive regression we got. That shot just meant Michigan didn't get their very narrow chance at winning two more games and the automatic bid that went with it. Losing was the merciful end, but it stood as a symbol for everything that went wrong. It was somewhere between irritating and infuriating.
Josh Gasser punting it in off the backboard—BACKBOARDS DIE—is probably going to cost Michigan an at-large, and it comes after a season of near-misses. I already wrote the bit about that scoring chance you get with five minutes left in the hockey game. It turns out that if Michigan is watching the NCAA Tournament selection show with a jaundiced eye they'll be thinking about threes clanging off rims in Champaign and a one-armed freshman shooting a three pointer so wildly errant it hit a courtside photographer before going in. And not being able to finish the deal against Ohio State earlier. And needing one measly point to avoid overtime against Kansas.
By all rights we should be waking up today like most Sundays the past three falls: hungover, pissed off, and mopey. It doesn't seem like we are, collectively—aside from one nutball on WTKA this morning the mood was downright chipper for the first time since the Notre Dame game.
It's obvious why. Just being in a position to be hurt is good after what happened last year and what the expectations were for this one. I admit that as I edited Tim's season preview I cocked an eyebrow at Tim's sunny conclusion:
The one thing they can promise, though, is that they'll be fun to watch. Maybe not in every individual game, but seeing these young players grow over the course of the season should be an entertaining - if often frustrating - experience all its own.
31 games later that may be the most accurate season prediction ever purveyed in this space*.
It sucks that a blind Chinese six-year-old threw a ball through the center of the earth that just happened to have enough momentum to pop up through the underside of the basket and fall back through, but Michigan has the most improved player in the conference, the best freshman who will be around next year, no seniors, the 336th most-experienced team in the country, and two good guards on the way to fill out the roster. According to Kenpom this is already the best team Beilein's had at Michigan—they are 48th while the tourney team was 50th. There has been no point in the post-sanctions history of Michigan basketball where optimism is as warranted.
In the light of morning not even a tiny meteor launched from Tralfamadore billions of years ago falling through the Crisler arena roof and subsequently the net can take away the feeling that sometimes it's good to hurt because at least you know you're alive. Michigan basketball is alive.
*[Although I did say football would go 7-5 this year. Third time's a charm.]
Non-bullets of glassy destruction
Novak no shoot. Beilein apparently said that he doesn't believe playing Zack Novak at the 4 is affecting his shooting but it's hard to see the correlation as something other than causation. I don't think Michigan has a choice—in the Iowa and Wisconsin games when Smotrycz was put on Basabe/Leuer it led it instant easy baskets and a quick switch. I think the reason Michigan's mostly playing Smotrycz at the five is because he gets annihilated by guys with ball skills.
Getting Smotrycz to improve and getting Christian to the point where he can do at least one thing on offense—corner threes maybe—are key points for next season. I'm not sure how much more Michigan is going to get out of Morgan and Morris and we have an idea of what Hardaway will become. The shooting guard will be a white guy who shoots threes and occasionally Carlton Brundidge. The four is the biggest issue.
Beilein's bedroom. Has a poster of Jon Leuer where other people put Megan Fox. Jesus. He has a 119 ORtg and he's taking nearly a third of Wisconsin's shots! Random mock draft has him going in the second round to the Pistons, which okay. I'm all over that. I can't imagine him being not useful.
Also, Beilein has to be looking at Keaton Nankivil and thinking "where can I get a 6'8" to shoot 48% from three?" Either that or "was that guy in The Usual Suspects?"
Late game strategy. I was fine with it; the problem came on the last foul when Michigan could only burn a second or two off the clock. If they get a bit more Wisconsin is trying to shoot with three seconds. As it was, Michigan really needed to not have three guys in the paint by the time the pass was made. That ball was going up.
Senior day? What are they going to do for it? Are they going to bother with it?
2/18/2011 – Michigan 6, Western Michigan 3 – 20-9-4, 17-7-1 CCHA
2/21/2011 – Michigan 5, Western Michigan 4 (OT) – 21-9-4, 18-7-1 CCHA
Sometimes being at a hockey game is an exercise in wishing you were watching the thing on TV where the camera angle is consistent and the replays are repeated ad nauseum. This is especially true at Yost, where events just happen and evaporate without the benefit of video replay.
An example: at the end of the first period the puck was behind the net and suddenly the ref was feverishly pointing at the puck in the net without the thing seemingly ever reaching a spot where that was physically possible. The ref went to check it out. A few moments later the part of Yost directly behind the penalty boxes stood up and craned their collective neck to see the review as I plotted to relocate there next year, and a few moments after that he waved the thing off.
Last year I would have had to trudge through the deep, useless recesses of the USCHO board to find out what happened. Five years ago a Saturday game against Western probably wasn't televised at all and no one would really ever know. Since it's 2011 I just pulled out my phone, tweeted at the Daily's hockey beat writer*, and found out within ten minutes that the puck had indeed gone into the net from behind the goal.
I didn't see it, though, and that's kind of the point of being a spectator.
Sometimes hockey collapses itself into a universe just for you. You have to be sitting along the sideline between the blue lines for this to happen. If you are, at certain points you can draw a perfectly straight line from you to the guy shooting the puck to the goal.
An example: when Michigan came back against Denver in the NCAA tournament I sat right behind the Michigan bench and watched Eric Werner plunge into the slot to flick a puck over Wade Dubielewicz** to tie the game. I saw it the whole way and my mind blew up.
I shelled out for old fogey seats this year so when Lee Moffie entered the zone I saw Hagelin behind him and thought Moffie should drop it, and he did, and there were two seconds left so there's only one thing for Hagelin to do, and as he let the shot go and I drew a straight line from me to him to the net as the puck slid past the defenseman clean and rose. I could see where it was heading, see the goalie throw his glove at it but not get there in time, see the puck ricochet the right way as the great clank filled the building. It was one of those moments where the angel comes down from heaven and says "you there—God has selected you to have the deep-seated, socially awkward fandom of the concealed lunatic." It was pure.
And while I've been craving video boards at Yost for years there's something beautiful about not having the thing you just experienced altered by someone else's perspective. Since the Werner goal isn't on youtube no one can tell me he wasn't wielding a scimitar, wearing an eyepatch, and screaming "hhhhhyarrrrr" as he swashbuckled towards the net. I'm pretty sure the unicorn he was riding was named Steve.
Those days are over—see the youtube clip above—but thanks to Carl Hagelin Yost got one last opportunity to walk out of the building buzzing about the thing that just happened in your head, and only your head.
*[Michael Florek was beaten to the punch by the Hoover Street Rag.]
**[Google's spellchecking was heroic here: I typed "wade dublevicz."]
mfan_in_ohio has again broken down the pairwise so I'll just point you to his analysis. Michigan flew up to sixth after the sweep, but it is a tenuous, tenuous sixth. Here's why:
That's Ohio State barely nosing above .500 in RPI after taking a win and a tie from LSSU. Michigan's 3-1 record against the Buckeyes thus counts in the TUC category. This tiny difference in the season of a single opponent swings comparisons against Boston College and UNO. If OSU had split over the weekend Michigan would be eighth and we'd be wondering what a man has to do to get some respect around here.
As it is, OSU's nose getting over the line combined with a couple of wins over a WMU team that did well in its nonconference schedule gets you halfway to a one seed in one weekend. That and a lot of help elsewhere—Dartmouth, RPI, UMD, UNO, and Denver all lost over the weekend. Denver lost to Michigan Tech(!), which is huge because that's a common opponent and a terrible team.
While this is almost Michigan's ceiling, the stumbles of Denver and UMD have opened the door to the last one seed. Michigan easily beats Denver in COP now and is within striking distance in both TUC and RPI—outperforming them by a game down the stretch will do it. UMD, meanwhile, is close enough in RPI to drop if they lose and the six remaining regular season games between the two teams are all common opponents—NMU for Michigan, CC and UNO for UMD. If they take those two comparisons and Ohio State and Ferris can walk the tripwire so that both of them finish the season under consideration, they can slide up to fourth. This will take some luck but if Michigan sweeps Northern and wins the CCHA playoffs I think they'll be 50-50 for the one-seed.
- OSU plays Ferris this weekend and can remain in the TUC zone by splitting. However, sweeping will actually put Ferris about where OSU is now, leaving them vulnerable to dropping out in the CCHA playoffs. You probably want a split here but root for OSU on Friday because they're more vulnerable. You want both of these teams to do well in the playoffs.
- You hate Denver and Minnesota-Duluth with the burning fiery passion of a thousand suns.
- Also Boston College and UNO.
Everything else is up to Michigan.
It's Michigan and Notre Dame with ND maintaining a one-point lead. They have a home-and-home with this Western team; Michigan goes to Northern. Agonizingly, neither game in Marquette is televised. Michigan will win the tiebreaker if the teams end up even in points.
Non-bullets of !!!
Kind of mad, kind of awesome. Shawn Hunwick was not so good this weekend. On Friday it didn't result in much damage because the team had already gotten the other guy's goalie pulled but on Saturday he was off on both of the breakaways. They were breakaways so it's hard to be too mad but he gave up a weak five hole goal on the first and was way too deep in his net on the other. On the other hand, this is what he tweeted immediately afterwards:
Thank you Carl Hagelin for saving my ass. Great senior class. We had a phenomenal four years.
It wasn't that bad. We still love you and the fact that on shots from the point you end up halfway to the blue line.
Also, Hunwick made three clutch, clutch stops in the third period Saturday.
Need moar Swede. There needs to be another Swedish guy on the team ASAP. We've got the flag, we're very enthusiastic about the word "Bork"—let's make this happen.
Muppets. I totally should have muppetsed. Sorry. I had some people over afterwards and it slipped my mind.
With an assist to Lee Moffie. Moffie's fought for playing time most of the year despite having quite a knack for scoring because he's not that great defensively. Late in the third period as Michigan was trying to tie, however, he was ridiculously good. He's at his best when it's desperate and he can pinch and use his skill and wheel around the zone.
Other defensemen. It was a weekend full of defenseman thoughts:
- Greg Pateryn had a goal and three first assists on Friday. He essentially beat WMU by himself. As a bonus he would have had a fourth assist if you could assist on your own goals—he made an excellent play to control the puck and make a cross-ice pass in to the zone to set up the scoring chance. He still gets too aggressive at the blue line.
- Jon Merrill was really really good Friday—my friend just kept saying "he's really really good"—and then had probably his worst game as a Wolverine Saturday. It wasn't just the breakaway; he probably had more turnovers Saturday than in any two games he'd played this year.
- Mac Bennett is now leading the rush like 25% of the time there is one when he's on the ice.
What does he have to do? Lindsay Sparks was fast out there and looked as dangerous as he usually does. He hasn't put up much in the way of points but I'm continually surprised he can't get in the lineup regularly.
Exploding Lynch. Two on Friday, then two very fancy moves to get to his forehand Saturday. After the first I thought "that's the most dangerous thing he's done as a Wolverine" even though the shot was stopped; he did the same thing a period later and scored. Let's throw everyone down on the fourth line.
BONUS. Googling for Denver goals did turn this one up:
I'm hoping Hagelin channels Ortmeyer in his final games at Michigan.
As the crowd honored the seniors after the game, the Swedish flag that has flown at Yost for three seasons was tossed over the glass to Hagelin. The students had passed it around throughout the game, autographing it and writing thank yous and words of encouragement to our Super Swede.
I wondered what all the stuff on it was. Also: this is a bonus from having Senior Night on a weekend where the students aren't on break.
On what Berenson said to Carl when he gave him a hug after the game… Well, I just told him “Aren’t you glad you came to Michigan? And aren’t we glad that you came?” And good for him. He set a standard here. He’s been a terrific kid, student, player, teammate—you know, just a terrific kid. It’s the first Swedish player we’ve had and we’ll always remember him.
2013 commit JT Compher will join the NTDP, which should lock him up for college—it also suggests he's a high-end guy.
2/16/2011 – Michigan 52, Illinois 54 – 16-11, 6-8 Big Ten
Bear with me: if Michigan's basketball season was a hockey game, last night's basketball game was a really good scoring chance blown when you're down one with five minutes left. At that point you write the game off, because that was it. Objectively, your chance of winning hasn't changed much, if at all, but it feels like a door just closed.
Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes aren't much worse than they were 24 hours ago. Since Kenpom loves Illinois and Michigan outperformed expectations, its season prediction hardly moved. The evaporation of Michigan's 16% chance of winning in Champaign was made up for by significant positive moves in Michigan's four remaining games. But if Michigan's watching the NCAA selection show with a jaundiced eye, thinking about what could of been, they'll be thinking about ball after ball clanging off rims in Assembly Hall.
God, did anyone else scream horrible profanity at the world in general at that point in the second half when Zack Novak set up for yet another wide open three pointer that bashed the front of the rim? It's one thing if Michigan's firing awkward, contested threes deep in the shot clock and another when open look after open look isn't even close to going down. What's Stu Douglass—before yesterday a 40% three point shooter—supposed to do when he's standing still with the ball in his hand and no Illinois player within three feet? Shoot. He shoots, and this goes horribly, and Michigan still almost pulls off a statement win* and we're left to wonder what would have happened if they had just been miserable from three instead of abominable.
And then there's this: 4-28. That's what Michigan shot against Kansas in a game that went to overtime. Sometimes basketball makes you want to punch a wall even when you're in the bonus on the road with 14 minutes left in the half.
In the long view Michigan exceeded expectations again, if slightly, and has managed to stay in games even when threes aren't available or falling. Hope for next year increments slightly again. Right now, argh.
*[Statement is "hey, seriously guys we're on the bubble, seriously." That qualifies for the 335th-most experienced team in D-I]
Non-bullets that do not go in at all ever
Bruce Weber: not so much. That was a terribly coached basketball team that let Michigan hang around despite their inability to throw the ball in Tim Doyle's bad nickname repository by making inane turnovers and taking terrible shots. I'd be pretty upset if I was an Illinois fan. They are huge, veteran, talented, and headed for a second-round matchup with a one-seed.
Tim Doyle: not entirely horrible. I still cringe at "The Butterfly" and believe we should start calling Doyle "The Argyle Sock" in retaliation, but after listening to Stephen Bardo fire out two hours of inane cliches I appreciate Doyle a bit more. Anyone wondering what the hell Michigan could do to stop Tisdale from catching the ball two inches from the basket got some great analysis when Doyle pointed out that Zack Novak was way too far from the guy throwing the entry pass—far enough away that the guy could chuck a chest pass.
Doyle needs to realize his bid to nickname Michigan's point guard has failed and start using an outrageous Russian accent when he makes his Rounders references, but I'm slowly warming to him.
The rack: terrifying. Illinois's length started bothering Michigan immensely towards the end of the first half. After getting a couple shots blocked and seeing a couple others altered beyond recognition, Michigan players were extremely hesitant to take driving lanes and started settling for meh midrange stuff. Morgan was the lone exception, which was good—he was productive in the second half—and bad—a couple of the shots he put up were poor decisions early in the shot clock. Still mostly good.
This tendency had its worst expression on the back-to-back possessions late where Douglass and Morris both took step-back jumpers from the women's three point line. Those were bad shots for a lot of reasons, and it's hard to imagine either of them getting launched against, say, Penn State.
Final shot. Saw some e-complaints about Smotrycz not driving to the hole on Michigan's final possession but don't understand them. Smotrycz may not have been lighting it up from three but he also got blocked when he tried to go to the hole that one time and is not shooting a great percentage from inside the arc. Help defense would have arrived, and time's running down. You get an open three to win and you're a 38% shooter I think you should take it.
Bit before the final shot. The look on Beilein's face as he called timeout after Michigan had run 17 seconds off the clock when a two-for-one opportunity was staring them in the face was not exasperated enough, but for it to be exasperated enough he would have had to break the laws of physics. File under "young team" unless it happens again.
Seriously, make a shot. I have nothing useful to add. Just argh.
Mets Maize. Best bit:
Morris and Hardaway Jr. leadership dynamic. At this point, it's pretty clear they're the leaders of the team but it was interesting to watch them communicate between whistles. At one point, Morris yelled at Hardaway Jr. to "chill out". Unfortunately, they just never got on the same page: Morris with at least a half dozen forced penetrations without a single pass in the half court set, Hardaway Jr. hesitant to pull the trigger, pump fakes and generically drives and kicks. Early in the 2nd half, there was an awkward, back-and-forth turnover-fest by both teams that resulted in Tim Hardaway Jr. trying to push the ball, getting it stolen and an Illini cherry-pickin' jam on the other end.
As UMHoops pointed out on the twitters, Illinois has the best eFG% defense in the league for a reason—and Michigan let it get to them.
Dylan also points out that this was Michigan's best defensive game in a while:
Lost in the offensive struggles is the fact that this was Michigan’s best defensive game in Big Ten play. Michigan held Illinois to .90 points per possession and more impressively just .73 per trip in the second half. Michigan was abused by the high-low in the first half but made the right adjustments to negate Illinois’ size advantage in the second half. Illinois posted an eFG% of 48% – 56% on twos & 22% on threes – and only attempted 9 free throws on the game. Most importantly, Michigan did a great job on the defensive glass, grabbing 76% of Illinois’ missed shots.
A chunk of that was due to Illinois's troubles from three, but those rebounding numbers are impressive against a huge team. Michigan's moved up to 41st in defensive rebounding. (The one major misstep from Doyle and the PBP guy last night was repeatedly claiming Michigan was not a good rebounding team. They're well above average defensively; they get zero offensive rebounds but the overall gap is small. They're about average.)
Certainly Michigan is a game to worry about on paper. But the reality is that they're sloppy on offense, they take too many quick shots, they don't value the ball and they play multiple defenses, none particularly well.
Michigan is 19th nationally in turnover margin, 321st in pace, still 19th nationally in turnover margin, and plays 95% man with the occasional 1-3-1 possession. That's amazing.
Feel free to shoot me for the headline.
2/6/2011 – Michigan 65, Penn State 62 – 14-10, 4-7 Big Ten
Michigan played well for about ten minutes yesterday but in those ten minutes they poured in three pointers from all over, drove to the basket with abandon, and twice turned double-digit Penn State leads into deficits. Since Darius Morris kept Michigan in contact during the other thirty and six of the ten minutes came at the end of the game that meant Michigan won.
That isn't a small feat. Penn State spent the past month cannibalizing seeds across the Big Ten by defending their home court. They beat Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan State at the Bryce-Jordan Center. On the road they were this close to enormous upsets of Ohio State (L 69-66) and Purdue (L 63-62). In a not-very-alternate universe they were cruising towards a tourney bid even if they did get crushed by Maine.
So that was a good, weird win. If you want it in a chart (chart):
The point on the graph where it drops like a stone until the end should be labeled "Hardaway kill switch engaged." Down ten and aimless with nine minutes left is when the fan packs it in and starts grumbling. In this game it's also when Tim Hardaway goes from Freshman Liability, Jr., to Just Tim Hardaway, Thanks.
In the two minutes of video above a possible future of Michigan basketball reveals itself. When UMHoops describes the Hardaway sequence above as a "coming of age" Dylan's talking about Hardaway himself, but it could be one for the team as a whole. Those things don't seem that different right now.
Everyone comes back next year, so the various bits of basketball that depend on cohesion (rotation on D, cuts and passing on O, etc.) should improve. Everyone should get incrementally better, which gets you an increment. Michigan's hopes to go from an NIT hopeful to a solid NCAA team rely on at least one guy getting so much better that twitter threatens to kill Tim Doyle again, and the erratic freshman leading Michigan in shots is the obvious candidate.
In the clips above it's not the three-pointers that set hopes to tingle. We've seen Hardaway shoot a ton of threes this year and while he's adding a couple points of shooting percentage to them is encouraging, Michigan has plenty of guys who can take shots from outside the arc. It's the two different drives to the hoop where he glides into the lane and elevates to finish. Yes, you are 6'5". Yes, you are Tim Hardaway's son. Yes, you can turn into the kind of player who's an all-around nightmare. Yes, please, by next year.
This year we expected and got that graph above, struggles punctuated by tantalizing flashes. So far we've gotten slightly more of the latter than we were banking on. Maintain that, reach the NIT, and get one guy—one guy—to make a Morris-like leap and next year Beilein's program can establish itself for real.
Let's get ahead of ourselves bullets
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. File this under general fan overreaction as well:
After PSU Win, Can U-M Make a Tourney Run?
That's The Wolverine Blog laying out Michigan's stretch run and saying "well?" Said run, home games in bold:
Feb. 9 — vs. Northwestern — 14-8 overall (4-7 Big Ten, 3-4 road), No. 53 Sagarin, No. 76 RPI
Feb. 12 — vs. Indiana — 12-12 overall (3-8 Big Ten, 0-7 road), No. 89 Sagarin, No. 148 RPI
Feb. 16 — at Illinois — 15-8 overall (5-5 Big Ten, 11-1 home), No. 27 Sagarin, No. 37 RPI
Feb. 19 — at Iowa — 10-13 overall (3-8 Big Ten, 7-5 home), No. 103 Sagarin, No. 130 RPI
Feb. 23 — vs. Wisconsin — 17-5 overall (7-3 Big Ten, 2-4 road), No. 14 Sagarin, No. 20 RPI
Feb. 26 — at Minnesota — 16-7 overall (5-6 Big Ten, 11-2 home), No. 32 Sagarin, No. 24 RPI
Mar. 5 — vs. Michigan State — 13-10 overall (5-6 Big Ten, 3-6 road), No. 43 Sagarin, No. 49 RPI
Opposite the hockey devil sitting on my shoulder there's a basketball angel screaming "THIS IS TOTALLY DOABLE." There are four games on the schedule (the home games that aren't Wisconsin and @ Iowa) that look like should-wins, which gets Michigan to eight wins, and then if you squint real hard you can see Michigan picking off one of the others to get to 9-9 in the nation's toughest conference. That plus 19-12 overall could get into the new, pointlessly larger field.
There's a problem with the mind's definition of "should," though. Accrording to Kenpom Michigan's easiest game left is against Indiana. Michigan has a 69% shot to win that. Even if Kenpom is wildly pessimistic and Michigan has a 70% shot at all four of its "should-wins" that means they have just a 24% shot to win all four, and even then they'd have to pick off one of the other three, and in reality Kenpom has Michigan a slight underdog @ Iowa. Add it all up and a pretty accurate mathematical model says Michigan has a 10% chance to get to 9-9. Not so good.
Michigan really needed to pull out that Kansas game or the Ohio State game that immediately followed. Even without making the small positive adjustment in expectations that would give them a 35% chance to finish 9-9 or better and a marquee win to thrill the committee with. And at that point 8-10 might be feasible since they'd still be 19-12 overall in that scenario. If that was in play they'd have a 60-70% shot at the tourney.
As it stands they'll have to play perfectly to make it, and with all these freshmen the chances of that are slim. If I had to guess it'd say 17 or 18 wins and an NIT bid, which would be fine by me.
More evidence about the getting ahead of yourself. Michigan's still tenth in the league in efficiency margin, though said margins aren't huge and Michigan's finishing stretch is probably easier than average:
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Wisconsin 7-3 56.1 1.19 1.03 +0.16
2. Ohio St. 11-0 63.0 1.14 1.00 +0.14
3. Purdue 7-3 64.0 1.14 1.04 +0.10
4. Illinois 5-5 62.7 1.10 1.03 +0.07
5. Penn St. 5-6 58.6 1.07 1.09 -0.02
6. Minnesota 5-6 61.7 1.07 1.10 -0.03
7. Northwestern 4-7 63.2 1.08 1.14 -0.06
8. Indiana 3-8 63.0 1.06 1.13 -0.07
9. Michigan St. 5-6 61.6 1.03 1.10 -0.07
10. Michigan 4-7 59.7 1.07 1.15 -0.08
11. Iowa 3-8 65.9 1.00 1.11 -0.11
AVG. 61.8 1.09
Big Ten Wonk (aka John Gasaway) dubs this "The Year Nobody Sucked" because the league's worst team is way better than LSU or DePaul or Wake Forest, all of whom are just getting hammered. So… on paper we're filing three teams with better conference efficiency margins as should-wins when we're constructing our tourney fantasies.
Also of note in the above numbers: Michigan's defense is the worst in the league. It's close; the number is still the number. This isn't hugely surprising given the fleet of underclassmen and Zach Novak's persistent inability to escape the 4, but it's a comedown from earlier in the season when the Michigan D was shockingly proficient. I think we've got an obvious route for Michigan's offense to improve, but the defense is murkier. Michigan needs Smotrycz and Hardaway to get a lot better, I think, but without numbers that's just one guy's opinion.
Very aggressive. Earlier in the year I mentioned that Morris should have more of a nose for the basket when Michigan ran the shot clock under ten and in this game he went nuts with an array of floaters in the lane, layups he'd fought for tooth and nail, and various other shots where the viewer was like "bad idea bad idea bad idea actually that looks like he got a decent shot off it went in yay."
Part of this was Penn State adopting OSU's defensive approach—stick to the shooters and force shots from the lane. It worked for OSU because they have athletic shotblockers in the post and Michigan missed a lot of short-range shots. Penn State just gave up a lot of points in the lane.
Torrent. The rest of UMHoops' five key plays. Game recap. AnnArbor.com scouts Trey Burke against Brookhaven; UMHoops catches him going for 35 in a narrow loss to St. Edward. Mets Maize also chips in recap bits. Since I neglected to mention him:
Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, Stu Douglass, you go and do something like this... and totally redeem yourself! Consitent with Michigan's inconsistent season, Stu, who probably had his worst game of the year against Ohio State a few days ago, had his best game yet: 14 points, including 4/5 from behind the arc, 4 boards and 3 assists off the bench. I still think Stu needs to have more shot clock awareness at the 1, but he made timely 3's all game. One 3 came mid-way through the 2nd half to cut Penn States's lead from 10 to 7 when Michigan JUST started to look as if they were ready to give up. STUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.
MGoUser 2012 also assesses Michigan's chances at a tourney bid and comes to the same conclusion—wait 'til next year.
2/4/2011 – Michigan 2, Miami 4 – 17-8-4, 14-6-1 CCHA
2/5/2011 – Michigan 0, Miami 3 – 17-9-4, 14-7-1 CCHA
Over the weekend Miami paid tribute to tragically deceased team manager Brendan Burke by kicking Michigan's ass; Michigan paid tribute to not-very-tragically departed Tristin Llewellyn by having a team-wide contest to see who could take the stupidest penalty. Your winner was David Wohlberg, who slammed a Miami player into the boards on an icing call. Michigan had just blown a one goal lead and trailed by one with three minutes left, and I wasn't even surprised. The next night Michigan managed maybe three scoring chances in a 3-0 loss that tempted me to use the word "pathetic" despite its association with internet troglodytes.
So this is definitely an overreaction: that kind of felt like the beginning of the end of the Red Berenson era. I know what the instant reaction to that thought is because I had it too, but after I recoiled at the thing it sat there leering and never scoring any goals it appeared to mean. It's still there. It's horned and pitchforked. It's eating all my cheese dip. I hate it. It knows this, does not care, and refuses to leave.
Let's review the facts:
- In the last billion games Michigan has scored four goals, all of which were shots from defensemen that pinballed around the offensive zone like they were in that famous HORSE game between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Each struck at least three goats before entering the net.
- The best player on the team is the four-foot walk-on goalie who's gone from a terrifying liability to the reason Michigan hasn't lost all of the last billion games in which they scored four goals.
- Despite being coached by another four-foot tall person, this one so goofily hairy that he has to shave every six hours lest he drown in his own beard, Miami has the top two scorers in the country and is 10-6-1 against Michigan in the past X years. Michigan has been swept in Oxford the last three times they've visited.
- The four goals scored have mostly zinged past seniors, and while all of them not named Scooter or Carl have been disappointing the incoming recruiting class consists of a hyped goalie and then guys who are mostly last-minute additions. They seem likely to keep Michigan above the epic .500 fray in the CCHA but not keep pace with Miami and Notre Dame.
As I was trying to figure out the "subtler qualities" this Michigan hockey team had in the midst of their streak of nine wins in ten games, Red Berenson was telling anyone who would listen this team kinda sucked and was enjoying a fluky magic carpet ride. Red Berenson may not be have Carter Camper or Andy Miele these days but he can still identify problems better than I can. Three games later Michigan's finished going 2-2 against the 10th place team in the league and was swept out of the building by the Redhawks. They're now third in the CCHA and while they've got a couple of games in hand on Miami they're two back of Notre Dame and fading fast.
Meanwhile, I've been bracing for next year as a possible end to the tourney streak ever since Lucas Lessio decided to take his talents to the OHL. Michigan loses Rust, Hagelin, Caporusso, Vaughn, Langlais, Hogan, and Winnett, and while those guys have been immensely disappointing on the whole that list has Michigan's three top scorers. Two or three defensemen are flight risks and Michigan always seems to lose one guy inexplicably. Right now next year's top line look like it could be Wohlberg-Brown-Glendening, which… man. Either Moffatt blows up or that kid too young for the NHL draft (Di Guiseppe) massively exceeds expectations or we're going to be Alaska-Fairbanks++ next year.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing anyone who's watched this team closely was worried even when its winning, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It has gone thud. Now we're looking back across the last few years, seeing a narrative of erratic but generally declining play coupled with declining recruiting and a general sense of malaise as other teams in the league pass Michigan.
I'm in no way advocating a change. Red's earned the right to coach Michigan until the sun expands and engulfs the earth. I'm almost definitely freaking out because fans are always like "this thing that just happened is never going to stop happening," and unless Jim Tressel is involved that's not usually true. But it does feel right now that we're in the long decay phase every icon from Woody to Bo [era in general] to JoePa to Bowden to Mason [era in general] endures in the long slide from might to age. This Miami series was the equivalent of Football Armageddon: the moment the bad thing you hope isn't true becomes undeniable.
That doesn't mean we can't be good here and there. Since college hockey's system is weighted plinko, we could even win a national title. It won't be as a one-seed, and the days when Michigan getting swept by someone was a nuclear event are over. The near future for Michigan hockey feels like those years when they wandered into a WCHA rink against Minnesota or North Dakota in the tournament and you expected they'd lose. That feeling has lost its novelty.
Feeble, Feeble Non-Bullets
Come on, anti-jinx. Let's do this, yo. Genuine feeling about Michigan sports == Michigan sport doing its best to make me look silly. Let's do it.
Pairwise. Another weekend, another alarming slip. Michigan now hovers at 12th. Eyeballing it, they'll have to go 4-2 down the stretch and make the Joe to feel secure for an at-large. Going .500 would give them the same RPI as Western has right now. Western is 16th and the PWR is an RPI correction scheme, so that would be a coin flip. Going 4-2 would keep their RPI where it is right now and probably keep them along the 3/4 borderline.
The schedule is relatively friendly: home series against OSU and Western followed by a trip to Northern. OSU and NMU are both 9-11-2 in the league, but OSU's performed much better OOC and Northern's lucky they haven't sunk well down the league standings with their –24(!) goal differential. Western is 9-5-8 and has +11 league goal differential, which is good but not in the class of Miami. If they can't go 4-2 in those six games and then beat a team like OSU or Northern at Yost in the second round of the playoffs they won't deserve to be in the tourney anyway.
Yes, pretty much. Daily's Florek with two haunting questions:
If it’s late in the game and the Wolverines are down and call a timeout to draw up a faceoff play, whose stick does the puck end up on? And who takes a penalty shot if Michigan coach Red Berenson could choose anyone on the team?
Florek says you thought about that for too long and settled on Hagelin, which is true, and not good, and it's sad that's not good because Carl Hagelin is awesome but he needs an evil goal scoring gremlin somewhere on his team. It really burns when Michigan is consistently going up against Miami's magic midgets. Those tiny magnificent bastards used to be ours.
OH GOD FLOREK STOP ASKING QUES—
When’s the last time, somebody, literally anybody, on the Michigan team scored on a breakaway?
Dude, I can top that with "what about a cross-ice pass?" If you don't count the first Treais goal from Friday, which had already been deflected into the net by a defenseman's skate before Treais yo-ho-hoed it, it's… um?
1/27/2011 – Michigan 61, Michigan State 57 – 12-9, 2-6 Big Ten
left two Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
A couple years ago Michigan fans were wondering if they really had something or if an unexpected win against UCLA was just a one-off when they took on Duke in Crisler arena. Michigan won that game, and the moment I remember most was Zack Novak holding his follow-through an ostentatiously long time. He'd just hit a three pointer to push Michigan well in front that sent Crisler into honest-to-God hysterics. It was an ungritty thing to do, but if anyone can justify a little flash now and then it's Zack Novak.
Yesterday Novak had what can only be described as a leadership aneurysm. It was the grittiest twitchy, alarming fit anyone's ever had. MSU fans rushed to put it on the internet the better to mock him by:
This worked out about as well as painting "1,181" across your hairless, AXE-laden chests.
You know this, but: 6 of 8 from three, 19 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and various dogged things that don't show up in the box score but contribute to the bottom line. In the aftermath of the game David Merritt tweeted something about how if you question Zack Novak's importance to the team you "don't understand team sports*". That and math.
Because Michigan followed up a series of promising performances against elite teams with road duds against Indiana and Northwestern, beating Michigan State won't mean anything outside of the thing itself. Michigan's not likely to get even an NIT bid because of the win. Before my fiancée fell asleep for the second half she remarked that even though Michigan was in front "they make everything seem so hard," and they do.
Michigan is aimless. The announcers kept talking about Michigan taking a lot of time off the shot clock like that was a special strategy for this game when they're almost as slow (327th) as they are young (337th) and played at the exact same pace against South Carolina Upstate. When it's going well they're "deliberate," but to my eyes it's a team that doesn't really know what it's doing. They're forced to improvise when time gets low after chucking it around the perimeter for 20 seconds. It's almost exactly what Amaker teams did down to pulling the big out of the lane to provide a low-threat passing option as the ball cycles around the three point line.
The most eye-opening section of the season was the first half against Northwestern, when the Wildcats team ran a series of intricate cuts that opened up Michigan's defense for a rain of open threes and drives into the lane against mis-positioned defenders:
Michigan gets a lot of that from Darius Morris but Northwestern gets it from all over. Morris has an astronomic assist rate but if you compare the teams there are seven(!) Wildcats between him and Stu Douglass, Michigan's #2 guy. Despite the hype about Beilein, right now Michigan's offense boils down to "do something, Darius."
Fortunately for Michigan, Darius Morris has proven pretty good at not only that but twisting down the lane and getting awkward shots to fall. He was somehow 5 of 8 from inside the arc despite his teammates assisting on zero of his buckets; most of those were Dion Harris-style "well, someone has to put it up" buckets while swarmed in the lane. Combine that with near 50% three-point shooting and a you've got the recipe for an upset.
You don't have something sustainable to go back to the rest of the season.
Michigan's going to get better the rest of the way, but it might be hard to tell because of noise. They'll probably even get better more quickly than more experienced teams. IE, all teams. They still won't be very good. That's okay. Beating Michigan State at Breslin hasn't happened since I was a freshman in college—JESUS—and while it's very Sparty to say they can pack it in the rest of the year and there will still be some satisfaction from the season, it's also true. As a self-contained thing it is the best of all basketball things.
In the larger picture it's just one of those games when Colton Christian hits an 18-footer as the shot clock expires. They happen. Where this game gives hope is for the offseason, when Zack Novak will call for a captain's practice and the his teammates will remember he was the man who sprayed gore all over the Breslin Center and showed Michigan State it was theirs.
*[He also mentioned that he used to throw "Office" quotes back and forth with Douglass.]
Non-bullets and whatnot
Not a vintage MSU team. At some point in early in the game a goofy white guy did something bad and I was about to kick something when I realized he was playing for Michigan State. Late in the first half I was wondering why the goofy white guy never came off the floor when the announcers mentioned his name, which was a different name, and I looked at their numbers and they were different too and it dawned on me that there were two goofy white guys who only did bad things splitting 40 minutes of playing time. One of them was an elf who bakes cookies.
It was at this point hope dawned.
Novak and Stu as reasons for Beilein hope. They're obviously better than Smotrycz on a possession-to-possession "oh God, what was that?" level, and I'd throw in Hardaway and his addiction to chucking up not-very-good shots in there too. Novak and Douglass were just as shaky as freshmen. Douglass had the same disease Hardaway does. Now they have the best eFG% on the team excepting easy-bucket machine Jordan Morgan. Douglass was a conscience free gunner his first couple years; now his usage rate is in the "limited roles" category and his three point percentage is a point short of 40%.
If Hardaway and Smotrycz can advance at the same pace they can be those guys plus three inches each. I'm relatively serene about Beilein's bulletproof status because his recruiting's improved tremendously, the team would be a lot different if Robin Benzing and Ben Cronin hadn't flamed out, and it's at least worth checking out what will happen next year when experience goes from almost dead last nationally (337 of 345) to approximately middle-of-the pack. If you add a year of experience to everyone they'd be in a huge multi-way tie for 126th, but that's generous because Michigan will play Burke and Brundidge.
Beilein's already earned next year, and when they take the inevitable step forward in '11-'12 he'll get year six, and that's got at least a decent chance of working out.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., please report to the lost and found. We have found your conscience. Please re-insert it and stop leading the team in three-pointers attempted despite only hitting 30% of them. He's got a higher percentage of shots while he's on the floor than Morris does, which is kind of amazing. Michigan would be better if he got that usage down to around 20%. I'm sure, like Stu, that he'll learn.
The strange thing about Smotrycz. Does anyone else think his best defense is played in the post? This isn't really a compliment—he's probably the worst defensive player on the team, constantly getting lost. But when Michigan goes tiny they have him defend the five and I can't remember thinking "this has to stop" during any of those long stretches.
Seriously. Someone at The Only Colors complained about my characterization of the streak guys as "meatheads." Seriously?
You can seriously look at those guys and envision them doing anything other than slather each other in AXE as they recite "Sex Panther" quotes back and forth to each other before heading out to a kegger where they are totally going to get laid, or at least slapped?
This has something to do with the juggalos post in the aftermath of the football game this fall, but here I was just making an observation about five guys with spotlessly hair-free chests whooping like monkeys. Michigan has meatheads enrolled. I met plenty. It was not a shot at anyone except the jinx-bringers.
Also, seriously: juggalos in Ann Arbor last fall. Seriously. Never been that bad, even when OSU fans were 30k strong for the 2009 Game. This is because the OSU fans who showed up were the kind that went to the game instead of just hanging out for an opportunity to take out their insecurities. Dozens of Michigan fans have told me this, a good chunk before the post even went up.