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.
1/21/2011 – Michigan 2, Alaska 0 – 16-6-4, 13-4-1 CCHA
1/22/2011 – Michigan 4, Alaska 3 – 17-6-4, 14-4-1 CCHA
"We had a lot of guys playing hard, but our team didn’t play as well it needed to.”
I've been going to Yost for a long time and I don't think I've ever seen Michigan outshot on consecutive nights, let alone by the margins they were outshot this weekend. And yet they still won. They won because Shawn Hunwick was both awesome and fortunate—at least three pucks sailed harmlessly through the crease behind him on Saturday—and Alaska demonstrated that they are the sort of team that scores two goals a game even when the other is dead-set on making a pile of errors.
I swear Michigan athletics is designed to make me look bad. A week after suggesting this set of defensemen was a near-flawless machine they coughed pucks up left and right, failed to check guys screaming through the slot, and gave up an epic number of odd-man rushes. On Saturday Alaska had a 2-on-0 thanks to Mac Bennett blowing a tire at the blue line. They didn't score. That was kind of the weekend.
Even Merrill broke character to join in. Of all people, he was the guy headed to the box to give Alaska a minute of 5-on-3 with five minutes left in the weekend and the game in the balance. His slash was pretty dumb. That was also kind of the weekend.
Michigan's last loss was courtesy of back-to-back dumb 5-on-3s ceded to Michigan State. Michigan's penalty kill is really bad this year. The building was braced for a red light. But then Chad Langlais dove to chip a puck out of the zone off the faceoff, Rust and Hagelin played with the puck for thirty seconds, and by the time the Nanooks got set up in the zone they'd spent 80% of their 5-on-3. Ten seconds later it was over, Yost was on its feet, and Michigan had swept an Alaska team that had gone two years since coming out of a weekend without a point.
Today varsity is two points clear of Notre Dame with a game in hand. They've won nine of their last ten and dropped the one in overtime. They're one Ferris State win away from a one seed. But this week the amalgam of parts that add up to more than they should individually looks like a ramshackle jalopy ready to fall apart. Hopefully this can serve as a wakeup call, rather than actual losses foretold by Saturday's performance.
Non-bullets of escape
Strategery Q. Should Alaska have pulled their goalie during the 5-on-3? I don't know, but I think I would have. You're not going to get a better chance to score and the chances a three-man group can break out against six skaters seems incredibly low.
Adding to the uneasiness. The only even-strength Michigan goal of the weekend that wasn't a point shot came from Scooter Vaughn directly off the draw. (Rust's goal was a deflection from Moffie.) Michigan's defensemen can really pick them out from the point but I doubt that's sustainable.
Moffie, yo. Lee Moffie had a three game goal streak and picked up an assist on that Rust goal when another point shot of his was deflected in. And he didn't seem responsible for much, if any, of the scary defending on Saturday.
Greenham FTW. After Michigan's first goal on Friday a student chucked a small plastic ball on the ice. Moments later, Carl Hagelin was decked as he skated by the Alaska bench. A scrum ensued, followed by one of those interminable referee conferences where they take ten minutes to give everyone matching minors.
In this window of time Alaska goalie Scott Greenham attempted to flip the ball back into the crowd. His first attempt was unsuccessful and drew boos. The second worked, but Greenham had miscalculated: he put it back where it came from. Whoever caught it chucked it right back on the ice. Greenham sighed demonstratively and set about trying to flip the thing over the boards on the other side, but couldn't. He eventually hit it to Rust, who put it over in one, causing the crowd to blow up and Rust to celebrate like he'd just won the Stanley Cup.
It was the best interminable referee conference ever.
Speaking of interminable referee conference. How does Michigan come out of that with an unsportsmanlike bonus penalty to Carl Hagelin? He took a penalty for getting nailed. Other frustrations from the refs:
- not immediately waving off the hypothetical Alaska tying goal for goaltender interference, and then not giving Alaska a penalty for running Hunwick over.
- watching two Michigan sticks cleaved in half right after Merrill had gotten out of the box for his slash and calling neither.
I thought the reffing over the weekend was actually pretty good, but those were weird/frustrating.
Yost bits. A couple of student cheers that were memorable: shutting up the Alaska parents section after their third goal with a "Sarah Palin" cheer and chanting "where's our candy?" at a linesman who had flipped them some the night before.
Pairwise bits. Bits flipped somewhere in the PWR and Michigan now slides behind Boston College. They're sixth. This is probably because Ferris dropped under .500 in RPI and Michigan lost their shiny TUC record against them. That's enough to flip the BC comparison.
For an example of how volatile the PWR is, especially at this point, RPI was mentioned as the #16 team in the preview. After the weekend they're up to 8th. Swings all over the place.
I did take a look at a couple of the comparisons Michigan is losing right now and it does seem possible that they would be able to pass some of the teams in front of them without passing them in RPI. They will not win the North Dakota comparison without heaven and earth moving, but they would win comparisons with BC and Denver if Ferris was still a TUC; the UMD comparison would be very much up for grabs with a narrow margin in the common opponents category making the difference.
1/1/2010 – Michigan 14, Mississippi State 52 – 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten
Amongst the many many things posted over the weekend that could have been posted at any time in the last three years was one odd bit of history that's apropos: a letter drafted for Nixon to read in the event that Neal Armstrong and company were to die on the moon because the lander wouldn't leave.
Men in charge of things make difficult decisions and live with the consequences of their actions even if they result in reading the thing William Safire wrote for you about two men watching at their oxygen gauges count down in an airless wasteland.
Back in the summer of 2008, when we were a happy-go-lucky band of mountain yodelers with flowers in our pockets and caviar dreams, I finished up that year's preview with that picture of Don Canham staring down a thicket of microphones as Bump Elliott searched for a sandwich and Bo exuded his Bo-like confidence. I've referred to it ever since, and here it is again:
Lives were not literally at stake above, but even so it's hard to imagine Nixon adopting an expression that more perfectly sums up the feeling of someone who's made a big decision and now has to watch someone else execute. At the end of that post this is what I said:
We are all Don Canham now. Rich Rodriguez comes in with a wildly successful pedigree but promises to finally tear down the culture of Bo’s program, to replace it with something uncertain. This has caused apprehension in some, joy in others, and disdain verging on hatred in a select group.
The program risks changing into something people drift away from because it has drifted from them, or, worse, something that you only wish you could drift away from. It also promises fireworks and fun and victory and a feeling that’s something other than that thing we’ve felt so much before. Other fanbases go through this every five or ten or fifteen years; for us it’s been 40.
I could welcome it, I guess, or celebrate it, or proclaim inevitable dominion over the land. But I don’t feel like it. Nor do I feel like fretting over imaginary scandals future. Like Canham, I just hope it works.
I don't think it has. A game somewhere around expectations would not have moved the needle enough for slight support for Rich Rodriguez to morph into a call for firing, but I turned the game off before the third quarter was over and when I felt remorse and turned it back on a few minutes later Mississippi State had put up another touchdown. It was not around expectations, except in the ways that it was by not being around expectations in a depressing direction. Before the season I thought 7-5 would do it but now at 7-6 with every loss a blowout and three of the wins last-drive nailbiters, Michigan's progress seems minimal at best. But for the opening week, this is the worst seven-win season imaginable.
If I'm slotting Rich Rodriguez into the picture above he's on the right, and it's time to look for the guy on the left again.
On the likelihood of a change. Still nothing definitive but everything that enters the inbox adds to the circumstantial pile of evidence suggesting we're done. If Harbaugh escapes Michigan's clutches Michigan is in a bad spot because of the "process" and how much time it's left them in the event they do not immediately transition to a new coach, but having no serious options other than Rodriguez is probably the only scenario in which we don't see a change.
As to when, Tom says he's hearing there's a team meeting tomorrow at 7 PM that was scheduled before the bowl game. If that's now be a wake we'll hear about it soon after. There are unconfirmed third hand reports about coaches saying goodbye, which could mean anything from the obvious canning of Greg Robinson to a wholesale broom.
Also, while some players have been publicly supportive, a lot of parents have jumped ship and have met with Brandon expressing frustration at goings-on on the defense. Some players may have been "lost" by the bowl debacle as well.
On recent Harbaugh panic. The Big Lead probably doesn't know shit and even if he turns out right he got lucky because he's just randomly saying things people email him without even a cursory check. However, Adam Schefter is serious business and this is foreboding:
Schefter on ESPN: "Now, there is a real feeling around the league (Harbaugh) would prefer be in the NFL."
On the other hand, "a real feeling" is far from definitive and Schefter was just reporting that Harbaugh was leaning towards Michigan with the same strength—coaching change stuff is "fluid," and by fluid people mean "batshit."
On Brady Hoke. "Not an option."
On Plan B. The Plan B name in the event Harbaugh escapes is probably Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald actually makes quite a bit of sense as a young guy with a spotless media profile who runs a spread offense Denard would feel at home in. He hasn't put together a monster team or anything but recovered from a shaky start in the aftermath of Randy Walker's death to go 9-4, 8-5, and 7-6. Not exactly Harbaugh and another guy who'd be leaving his alma mater for greener pastures, but Michigan is not in a great spot right now.
12/11/2010 – Michigan 1, Akron 2 – 17-5-3, season over
Because my one true soccer allegiance is to the USMNT, Friday's game against Akron was familiar. It followed the same script that Nats games against world powers do: show up, try really hard, get a lot of quality defending in emergencies, take advantage of one opportunity to score, spend most of the game trying to get the ball, and eventually lose.
At some point in the second half John Harkes said Akron "looked like a professional team" and the crowd gathered to watch couldn't even muster up a Cam Newton joke. We could only sigh in agreement and wait for the inevitable. If an Akron player had broken someone's foot it would have been the spiritual successor of last year's USA-Holland friendly in every way. Instead it was just 90%.
When the Yanks haven't followed that script it's been because they nicked an early goal, survived an avalanche of pressure thanks in large part to heroic goaltending, and maybe grabbed another on a counter. Michigan got only the first, and go out to superior competition. The Zips won the national title against an undefeated Louisville team and I bet there's some Zip fan out there thinking "how did we only put in three goals this weekend?" The road from MAC fan with MAC perspective to Brazilian is short indeed.
As for Michigan, no one can be disappointed with the run that saw them rip off an undefeated streak that took them to the Big Ten title and the final four after taking a 7-1 beating from this Akron team midseason. Michigan loses only a few players here and there and actually looked better after they took off senior Alex Wood for freshman Fabio Pereira; with the Saads returning and what I'm told are top-notch recruiting classes the last two years forming the bulk of the team this edition of "new Michigan sport to care about" should go better than the baseball team, which is still okay but failed to maintain its Fetter/Putnam/Abraham era national relevance and is now just another good mid-major.
That's for later, though. Right now I know why I got so annoyed with all the "be our kicker" jokes unleashed at Justin Meram throughout the year: he's got a little bit of magic in him, the kind of thing that Denard Robinson brought to the football team and has been frustratingly absent at Yost for a couple seasons. When the ball is at his feet, something awesome is or could or will and has happened.
That should mean something other than "I wonder if that guy can hit a 35-yarder." I hope that in ten years I remember him like I do Mike Comrie, as the guy who cemented a fandom. He opened a door; here's to Saads and Brazilians and Basically Eckstein and Steve Burns walking through it.
Blame-y section. So Akron really, really deserved to win that game but the frustrating part is that since Michigan did an excellent job limiting their opportunities, if not their time on the ball, they only had a few truly quality chances. They put most of them directly into Blais's chest.
With the Meram zinger that game was there for the taking, and the main reason they didn't take it was Blais. Getting beat near post on a shot as far out as Kitchen's equalizer is on the goalie, and while the second goal was a massive marking failure a ball that lands well within the six yard box is one that Blais has to come for. He made a good diving stop on a deflected ball late but when you can plausibly take the heat on both opponent goals you've had a bad day.
Additional impressions. It was hard to get a ton out of the game with the liveblog—I always forget how splitting your attention makes it hard to remember anything—but I thought Opare was a close second to Meram as Michigan's MOTM. He was clearly the smoother of the two central defenders and by the end of the game I had begun to have some confidence he could deal with even the rampaging Akron offense.
I think Michigan's failings largely laid with the other three defenders and Shaw, who were all okay to good defensively but could not cope with the Akron pressure and ended up chucking long balls or just giving the ball away. Michigan's offensive players are not large and against a top-quality opponent they're going to have to play through the midfield, but the linking play was extremely poor. Wood probably had a hand in that since they went away from him and to Pereira, as well.
The lady doth. Presented without comment:
Defender Zarek Valentin, who also played for the Bucks, said the Zips' victory should counter the losing image of Northeast Ohio.
"People think about Akron, they think about LeBron James and that whole fiasco," Valentin said. "This provides a good spirit on our campus."
The future. The only starters Michigan loses are the two outside backs, Wood, and Meram. It seems clear they'll go with Pereira to replace Wood. Tennant seemed like JAG to me and Michigan should find someone okay to replace him. Quijano and especially Meram are major losses; Michigan maintaining their current level will be a matter of finding reasonable replacements and having the rest of the team step forward as they enter sophomore and junior years. I'm not up on soccer recruiting enough to know how likely either of those things is—I tried, but I couldn't find much of anything.