If you're gonna go please be in the first round.
1/24/2012 – Michigan 66, Purdue 64 – 16-5, 6-2 Big Ten
Yo, dawg. I heard you like stress testing your heart. So we put the basketball team in an arena so it can either win or lose by two points unless it's getting crushed by Iowa(?!). Hope you enjoy stress testing your heart.
Seriously, though, the last five games:
- Northwestern: W 66-64 (OT)
- Iowa: L 75-59
- MSU: W 60-59
- Arkansas: L 66-64
- Purdue: W 66-64
If this continues massive swaths of Crisler will start keeling over, clutching their chests, whenever the clock ticks under five minutes. It's a hard life when you're a fan of a middling to good Big Ten team this year.
Michigan got the coveted road win, and now doesn't have to hear about their lack of such against good competition. At least not as much. I'm sure they'll bring it up. They stand atop the pile of skulls that is the Big Ten at 6-2. While that's not likely to last what with the murders row Michigan is in the midst of, if Hardaway can be the most recent version of himself they've got a shot at anyone even if Kenpom predicts a 17 point loss to OSU on Sunday.
Kenpom also predicts two more one point games. Keep the paddles handy.
Bullets that have been sweated repeatedly
Stu! I like color guy Dan Dakich a lot and thought he would point out that Michigan switched him onto Lewis Jackson late after he thoroughly trashed Trey Burke for most of the game:
Michigan’s defense was far from perfect due to its inability to contain Lewis Jackson on the pick-and-roll. Jackson sliced his way into the lane for 17 points on eight shots along with eight assists and was the catalyst for a Boilermaker offense that scored 1.09 points per possession.
Jackson was slowed by Douglass and Purdue settled into the four-minute funk that allowed Michigan to edge it. Dakich didn't mention it.
On top of that, Douglass had twelve points on eight shots, two steals, three assists, one turnover, and a couple of "Did Stu Douglass just do that?" moments. The first one, a hesitation move that got him an uncontested layup, reminded me of Chauncey Billups. He's earned his starting role.
Novak. Novak had four attempts and one three-pointer. He needs more usage. If Purdue can get its sniper eight attempts in this game Michigan should be able to get Novak at least a few.
Dakich did point out that Purdue was sticking to the corner shooters to the severe detriment of its interior defense and the numbers bear that out. Michigan shot just 14 threes (28% versus their average of 44%) and hit 58% from within the arc. Morgan was 5 of 7 and his two misses were point blank shots that should have gone down.
Hardaway! I was really frustrated with Hardaway in the first half—the accumulation of a lot of missed threes and poor decisions from earlier games and a few turnovers—and felt that resurface a couple of times in the second half whenever he'd miss or get into trouble on the interior. So I'm not the most balanced Hardaway commentator at the moment.
That said, if four turnovers are required for Hardaway to go 6 of 9 from within the arc, fine. I'd rather have his shots split 70-30 between twos and threes and for Hardaway's TO rate to shoot into the high teens (it's 12.4 right now) than the current situation. Hardaway didn't commit the requested charge. That's the next negative-indicating-a-positive step to take.
Now if the threes can just start falling… I mean, it's hard to believe the same player who shot something like 42% in the Big Ten last year is languishing at 27% this year.
Addition to the Hardaway face pantheon. Via UMHoops:
Depth! We have none. You already know this. Exactly one bench player had more than five minutes—Smotrycz—and there were some crazy plus-minus numbers associated with his entry into the game. Morgan was +18 in his time on the court, Smotrycz –16. There was about four minutes of overlap, FWIW.
Smotrycz entry saw the massive Purdue run on which the Boilers couldn't miss. It didn't seem like it was entirely his fault but it also seemed crazy to keep Morgan, who had a Stu-like game that was even better than a scoreline that looks pretty good already, on the bench for as long as Beilein did. If Michigan's going to wear down, they're going to wear down. They're getting just 22% of their minutes from their bench, which is 327th nationally. For comparison, they're about as starter-heavy this year as they were young last year.
I think we can agree this is not a good thing. It will get a bit better next year unless there is unexpected attrition—Hardaway is not going to be coming off a year he thinks represents his skill level, right?—what with three players replacing two. Then you've got Horford back, Beilfeldt off a redshirt, and hopefully some progress from Brundidge. They should have a pretty deep rotation everywhere save point guard.
I must not understand block/charge. There were two blocking fouls and a no-call that seemed totally ludicrous to me. The worst was when a stationary Hardaway took a violent shoulder to the chest; no call and the Purdue guy made an uncontested layup because his defender was looking for a license plate. A couple other Michigan attempts to take charges got called as blocks despite the defensive player's total immobility. You could hear Dakich's skepticism on one three-point play as the replay showed a totally stationary defender getting plowed and he said something along the lines of "uh… good job by that guy of not jumping directly into the player" as the replay showed a guy jumping almost but not quite entirely into a player.
There was also a Purdue bucket on which Smotrycz forced the driver to put almost the entirety of a size 14 shoe out of bounds that the refs missed. Michigan got one call that egregious on a Hardaway turnover magically transmogrified into a shooting foul by a ref who couldn't see what was going on since the players had their backs to him. Add it up and in a hypothetical world where the refs get everything right, Michigan wins by seven or so. I hate college basketball referees.
Dakich: thumbs up. Probably my favorite non-Raftery color guy at the moment, and I like Raftery for the atmosphere he brings a game, not necessarily the analysis. He's continually saying interesting things that make the dude watching at home understand a little more about basketball and he strikes a nice balance when he makes his criticisms. He's not a Knight-like crab but he'll point out that Jackson, for example, is getting into the lane way too easily.
1/21/2012 – Michigan 1, Notre Dame 3 – 14-9-4, 8-7-4 CCHA
1/22/2012 – Michigan 2, Notre Dame 1 – 15-9-4, 9-7-4 CCHA
Rudy does not impress Shawn Hunwick
At one point this weekend one of the announcers called Shawn Hunwick "Rudy" and then laughed about how Notre Dame fans would be mad about that comparison. I just don't even know where to start with that. Maybe here:
|Kent Patterson (COL)||Minnesota||SR||1618:54||56||2.08|
|Kevin Kapalka||Lake Superior||SO||1519:14||63||2.49|
|Andrew Hammond||Bowling Green||JR||1507:05||67||2.67|
|Paul Karpowich (STL)||Clarkson||SR||1458:58||51||2.1|
Rudy was an annoying twerp destined for sketchy pump-and-dump stock schemes who got in late in a blowout once. His life story is a tale of how plucky determination can turn you into a successories poster model and scam artist. Rudy's about as real as Notre Dame football's status as a national power.
By contrast, no one in the country is more important to their team than Hunwick. He plays every minute unless he's probably concussed or Michigan is up 10 goals. He is top ten in save percentage despite getting bombed, despite playing behind a poor penalty kill and mostly without Jon Merrill. He's so good not even the CCHA Gongshow can deny him his rightful place as the all-conference goalie this time around. (Surely. Surely?)
Like Jordan Kovacs, Hunwick long ago left walk-on territory. The journey looks like this:
- We're starting a walk-on? Death!
- He's tolerable for a walk-on but this is a signifier of how far we've fallen and we'll never get good until we get some talent in here.
- He's really good for a walk-on. I should probably stop calling him a walk-on.
- He's pretty good. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- He is my binky.
For both of those guys the term "walk-on" is no longer a signifier of anything other than an improbable backstory. Rudy they are not because they are actually good at things.
It's time to ask the question: is a five-seven walk-on who came to Michigan never expecting to play a game the best goalie in the history of the program?
Statistically, the answer is yes. Al Montoya put up an .895 as a disinterested junior and is out. Marty Turco's billion wins and tourney heroics obscure the fact he put up sub-.900 save percentages until his senior .907. I can't find full Steve Shields stats; the one year hockeyDB has also shows a .907.
Michigan's record book goes back to 1962 and currently lists Billy Sauer's 2007-2008 season at the top of the heap because it hasn't been updated in a couple years. Hunwick's two seasons as the out-and-out starter be 1-2 if whoever's responsible for the book could be convinced you weren't having them on. It's not even a debate when it comes to save percentage. Unless there's a sumo wrestler from the 1920s everyone's forgotten about, Hunwick is the all-time best.
However, hockey's changed considerably even over the last 15 years. In 1996 and 1998 when Turco was regarded as a god despite having those ugly numbers. That was not all in fans' heads, either. Turco went on to a long, successful, colorful NHL career. His first year in the AHL he put up a .920; two years later he was in the NHL. Clearly there was something about Michigan's mid-to-late 90s firewagon hockey that exposed goalies to a lot of high quality chances.
Save percentage alone is insufficient and if there were sports talk radio dedicated to Michigan hockey, people could rage about their favorites without anyone stepping in to say "you're wrong." Because who knows?
But it's not that we can answer that question definitively. It's that we can ask it at all.
It is a sad but undeniable fact that Sauer will mostly be remembered for tourney meltdowns. Hunwick has last year's North Dakota game to his credit. Montoya had a couple of stolen tourney games on his ledger; those are the only ones I can remember that came anything close to last year's grand theft. How close was that? Not close at all.
In the end answering the unanswerable question is going to come down to a few games in April. At this point there's only two ways the question can be answered: maybe, and yes.
*[Michigan's hockey statistical DB doesn't go very far back.]
A good weekend. Speaking of! Hunwick had a second consecutive monster weekend, giving up three goals on 74 shots. One was a no-chancer on a cross-crease pass, another a slot rebound that is the one consistent weakness of his game, the third a close-in shot it was hypothetically possible to stop but very difficult. Last week Ohio State managed one goal.
Michigan's third pairing got stuck in the zone against ND's hard forecheck, the second line seemed to spend most of its time futilely attempting to get the puck back from the Costello line, and defensive breakdowns put him under duress. He still cracked the top ten in save percentage.
You can argue he's the best in the country. The top four are at Union (ECAC) and three Atlantic Hockey schools; #7 is an ECAC guy; #9 is another AH guy. NMU's Jared Coreau and Miami's Connor Knapp are platooning. That leaves Hunwick, OSU's Cal Heeter, Merrimack's Joe Cannata and Mass-Lowell's Doug Carr at the top of the leaderboard in the Big Three conferences.
No one in that group has a huge lead in save percentage and Hunwick's ominpressence would seem to give him an edge. He's logged more minutes than anyone other than Minnesota's Kent Patterson; he has four full games on Cannata. He gets bombed, too. Michigan is yielding a blizzard of shots. That may hurt him when voters look at goals allowed, but he's got a shot at All-American type things.
A bad weekend. No one player is 100% responsible for any goal but Luke Glendening was the guy trying to check the guy shooting on all three of Notre Dame's goals (ENG ignored). Notre Dame's second on Friday was a backcheck he did not get position on and did not control the opponent's stick; the other two were just derpity doo.
(It's possible Merrill was more at fault on the last one.) Glendening also took two dumb penalties, one boarding, one interference.
So… like… he's the captain and everything but he has nine points in 28 games, three in 20 CCHA games; he's –3 in those 20. PDG is +4; Treais does not have conference stats listed at MGoBlue for some reason. Anyone else with those numbers would be fighting Andrew Sinelli for playing time. I'm just this guy on the internet but it's hard to see what Glendening is bringing to the table in terms of stats or the eye test.
Even if Michigan doesn't have a cornucopia of great options, the lines after the raging goal-fest that is Guptill-Wohlberg-Brown haven't been producing much of anything of late. It's time to throw the bottom nine in the blender and see what comes out.
An ugly weekend. Notre Dame was thugtastic to the point where Berenson's biting his tongue:
“They play an overly — I don’t know if it’s overly physical, but some people would say it’s — you know, there’s — I’m not going to say it. But yeah, it’s physical hockey,” Berenson said.
Guptill did not mince his words, though:
“I think they played a really dirty game, I’m going to be honest,” said freshman forward Alex Guptill on Saturday. “It was dirty; it was a mean series. You had to be playing tough out there to get any kind of ice.”
Hunwick is a hothead who will take retaliation penalties; Notre Dame was clearly trying to get him off his game with constant late chops that never get called and a bunch of stuff that probably should have been, most notably a cross-check to Hunwick's head. Hunwick kept his head for the most part. While he picked up a penalty it was a hockey-ref cop-out special wherein a bunch of guys end up in the box and no one gets a power play.
None of this rises to the level of OUTRAGE, but it's annoying when your goalie is under assault constant enough for announcers to delicately bring it up both nights and the referees won't put someone in the box for a couple minutes to stop it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
Pairwise bits. Michigan stays fifth in RPI and slides a spot in the PWR for reasons I won't bother figuring out until a couple more weeks are gone.
LIES! A quick glance at Michigan's comparisons is encouraging. Duluth and BU are likely out of reach unless those teams fade hard down the stretch. Comparisons lost against CC, Denver, Lowell, and Ohio State are within reach.
Michigan has significant RPI edges on the first two schools but that Union loss kills them in the COP; everyone is two games above .500 against teams under consideration but CC and DU have had fewer TUC games and therefore have a higher winning percentage. Michigan ties Lowell in COP and will remain tied unless Lowell faces BC or Northeastern in the Hockey East playoffs. Lowell has a significant TUC advantage; the teams are virtually tied in RPI. Because RPI is the tiebreaker, whoever wins that will win the comparison.
Ohio State, meanwhile, got just a tie from a series against Ferris State. They're now 0-3-3 in their last six and have finally bled off their huge advantage in PWR. They've dropped to 4th and are also a tiny hair above Michigan in RPI. OSU has slightly more than a one game lead in TUC; they do have a significant common opponents advantage but not one that Michigan can't make up what with OSU being in the same conference at all.
Michigan can of course slide down by losing a bunch of games. The point of this section: a one-seed is very much in play. Michigan has at least six more opportunities against TUCs and the toughest four games of the brutal stretch run are in the books at 3-1. They've got a bye week, Miami, a road-and-Joe with State, Northern, and then @ BGSU.
Weekly "I can't believe all these CCHA teams are in the tourney" update. Still six or seven. OSU-ND-M-FSU comprise a block from 4 to 7, Northern is 10th, and MSU and Miami are tied for 14th.
Weekly CCHA cat-in-sack update. Nothing is resolved. Miami swept WMU, making things even worse. Baseball standings:
Eight of eleven teams are within a weekend of first place; the difference between the conference champion and not even getting a bye is four points.
Steve Mike Chiasson scratch. Saturday. Got away with it. Still don't understand it.
Argh argh argh argh 2 on 0. It is emblematic of Michigan's odd-man-rush struggles that Guptill and Brown—two of the top three scorers—broke in alone on struggling Steve Summerhays and didn't even got a shot off. They had the right idea but Brown's pass was too far in front of Guptill. That would have made the last period a lot more relaxed.
In all other matters, first line uber alles.
On Friday, Notre Dame made it their goal to seemingly hit Shawn Hunwick as much as possible and try to get in his head. They ran into him, slashed him after the whistle, high-sticked him, at least a half-dozen times (many in the first period alone). The first instance led to a power play. Then the incompetent boobs officiating the game, Keith Sergott and Barry Pochmara, decided to basically let ND do whatever they wanted to our goalie. At one point, Hunwick got frustrated enough that he threw his stick to the ice after a scrum. I thought they then called him for unsportsmanlike conduct--that seemed to be the consensus on the telecast as well--but in the box score they've got him down for slashing. I'm guessing the reaction was based on them evening it up after he got slammed into for at least the fifth time.
He mentions how Friday's game was frustrating for the large quantity of chances against an iffy goalie that were spurned; co-signed.
Penn State picks up their first ever NHL draft pick. Max Gardiner was third rounder in 2010. If you're counting on your fingers trying to figure that out, Gardiner spent a year at Minnesota, where he was 1-2-3 in 17 games and then made a dash for the USHL. Michigan will see him when he is an upperclassman.
1/17/2012 – Michigan 60, Michigan State 59 – 15-4, 5-2 Big Ten
It was stomach-churning when Draymond Green conjured a pretty good shot out of thirty-five seconds of Michigan State panic, and that moment when the ball hung in the air was heart-stopping. In the vast aeons before its fate was determined, the observer had plenty of time to remember how much he hated backboards.
Oh, backboards. Scourge of the 2011 Wisconsin game at Crisler. Failed Andrew Jackson assassins. Uncooperative gits, backboards. When Josh Gasser had thrown an eyes-closed prayer up last year, a backboard answered his call. I had vowed revenge after it worked this alchemy on Crisler:
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 Green had not stopped his side-to-side momentum before getting the shot off and when it bounced off the backboard it did so too far to the left; it glanced off the rim. Green's putback attempt was well short, and that was that. Rather than the Gasser shot we'd just witnessed a replay of Deshawn Sims's improbably good look at the end of the 2010 game against State at Crisler.
Crisler blew up, as you might expect. Then something strange happened: nothing. No student or fan set foot on the court. Izzo rushed the referees to plead something or other, the teams shook hands, and then they left the court. No mosh pit. Crisler was loud but something short of delirious.
And there you go: the infamous "gap" is pretty much closed. Novak in the aftermath:
"We're to the point now where (beating Michigan State) is something we expect to do," Novak said. "My first two years, it was like, you've got to do it first -- you've got to do it one time.
"After you get that first one, you get a taste of it, but then you've got to learn how to win."
The last three years Michigan is 3-2 against Michigan State with one failed buzzer-beater on each side, an MSU blowout at the tail end of the disappointing 2010 season, and two solid Michigan victories during the regrettably short Get Off My Court era. If they haven't reached talent parity with State just yet it won't take long for Robinson, Stauskas, McGary, Irvin, Donnal, et al., to make that distinction a hard one to make. The PDC is complete; planned Crisler renovations will bring Michigan's arena in line with the best in the country. John Beilein is pretty good at coaching basketball.
Michigan's at the start of a long Big Ten grind that will probably spit them out significantly bruised, but at this point it's hard to see them chewed up enough to miss the tourney. If things fall right they could even sneak a seed with which it's plausible to make a Sweet 16. That's three of the last four tournaments and at least a .500 record against State over the last three years, and then the cavalry arrives. The moment when Beilein's program goes from building to built is fast approaching.
Zack Novak doesn't care about that. He cares about February 5th in Breslin, when he'll have the opportunity to go out with a winning record against Michigan State. The last four-year player to accomplish that was… I have no idea.
Next year is the one everyone's pointing to as the one when big things happen; this year is Novak's last. He is thinking about titles and tournaments and somehow keeping all of the blood vessels in his head intact for another three months. Fans can sit back and wait for help; Novak only has a few urgent months left.
Here they are.
Photos from Eric Upchurch:
These are Creative Commons licensed, as always.
Via MGoVideo, Denard and Roundtree executing the Can't Turn You Loose dance next to a shirtless dude and an engineer:
What a knob.
Last 31 seconds:
Also there are BTN highlights.
The trenchant analysis! So of course after I point out Smotrycz's ability to stay on the floor as a key to the game Michigan starts Stu Douglass and plays 90% of the game with Novak on Draymond Green. Smotrycz gets ten minutes. At least I said Green was a more plausible matchup than most Novak-vs-PF outings.
But so anyway, point Beilein for running out the small lineup and not getting extensively punished for it on the boards… actually, wait. Michigan rebounded one of 23 opportunities on the offensive end and allowed MSU to rebound 39% of their misses. So they did get pummeled on the boards. They eked it out because…
Uh… They eked it out because…
Uh… Okay. They were ferociously effective from two-point range. This continues a season-long theme but was not expected after a couple of rough outings. I think MSU five-star Adreian Payne was a major factor in this. Michigan sliced open the MSU defense early with un- or not-very contested layups largely because Payne's help defense was nonexistent despite having a matchup against Jordan Morgan. Morgan is not a guy you have to worry about taking jumpers, but Payne consistently failed to show at the basket when Michigan's various six-nothin' white guys would drive to the hoop.
As a result, Payne played only 14 minutes and finished with one rebound, that defensive. He should be awesome—dude is a physical marvel—except he's Mike Cox mentally. He got yanked a few minutes in. In the aftermath Izzo would bemoan a lack of "toughness," but what MSU lacked was between their ears, not their legs.
When Payne was out Nix didn't seem much better. For whatever reason the intimidating doom-bringers on the interior took yesterday's game off.
Uh… Also fouls and turnovers. The Valentine crew decided there were no fouls, much to my frustration in the first half when it seemed like various over-the-backs and Hardaway jumpers would have been fouls anywhere else on planet Earth. I know Hardaway is struggling, but there is no way he flat airballs two three-pointers in a short period of time.
HOWEVA, when it came to things actually called, Michigan had the advantage with just 8 fouls to MSU's 12 and 13 FTA to MSU's 5. This did not appear to be a home court effect. Even Michigan State people were unsurprised State had zero FTA at the half.
MSU also had six additional turnovers. Most of those came from Appling and Green as Michigan collapsed on them and they did not find assists to compensate. Appling did somewhat with his five but a 5-4 assist to TO ratio and a couple of charging calls is not ideal.
Tim Hardaway: come on, let's go. While Trey Burke is a fantastic player it doesn't seem disputable that Darius Morris was a much better shot creator last year than Burke is at this point in his career. That's been much to the detriment of Hardaway, who is now taking a lot of bad, contested shots and seeing his numbers drop precipitously. Michigan needs more of his last basket, when he shot by a defender and finished at the rim what with his six-five frame and leaping ability, and less of the shots like the above. Beilein also thinks this. Look at his face.
Hardaway did make an excellent decision to foul Nix on the floor after one of Michigan State's late whip-the-ball-around-until-it's-in-the-post-uncontested possessions. IIRC a turnover followed; those points were the difference (as were all points scored by M or not scored by MSU).
Stu Douglass: hat tip. After 38 minutes versus Iowa Douglass puts in 36 against MSU, plays his usual very good perimeter defense, had nine points on six shots, Michigan's lone offensive rebound, two assists, a steal, and a turnover. Even if I'm probably not going to say "argh where's Stu" next year like I will inevitably do when things are going poorly and Novak isn't around to grit something out, the intangible senior leadership Douglass provides is getting pretty tangible.
Burke. Yes, you're good. That three pointer was still a horrible decision. In all other ways, hurray.
Drive home safely. The visiting Izzone section. We have to talk, visiting Izzone section.
One: you came in a bus. Two: you bought a large section of tickets clearly designated the worst in the building, allowing you to stand as students will. Michigan is clearly complicit in getting you in the building, for whatever reason. Your bus did not appear to have a cloaking device.
Despite this, you sneak into the building incognito as if there are Izzone snipers stationed at the entrances. Then you chant "Daddy's better" at Tim Hardaway Jr., which… like… Tim Hardaway is one of the great point guards in NBA history. You know that, right? That's not actually an insult.
No points, mercy on your soul, etc.
Meanwhile. Does the Maize Rage do this? Could they do this? Why is Michigan selling a huge block of tickets to the Izzone? It doesn't seem likely that is the case. Why is Michigan actively annoying its fans by allowing this to happen?
Mathy Q. This would never happen and this is a conversation destined to remain hypothetical, but… how bad of a free throw shooter would someone on the floor have to be for a foul to be the right move in the situation Michigan was faced with last night?
I think a couple guys on the court were within range. Nix was 53% last year and is at 58% this year. If we give him 60% to make calculations easier, a non-shooting foul on him results in the following outcome after the one-and-one:
- 40%: Michigan with ball up one
- 24%: Michigan with ball tied
- 36%: Michigan with ball down one
That's if Michigan gets the rebound on the free throw, generally a good assumption but maybe less so in a balls-to-the-wall board crashing situation late.
I think there's a case for sending an under 60% free throw shooter to the line with 15 seconds or so left if they're going to get a one and one. Again, no one in the universe will ever try this in a game. But it's interesting to consider.
Random. I think of this as Rasheed Wallace version of "THE GAAAAAME." Do you know what I'm talking about? After the Pistons won their championship Wallace called basketball that in his indefinable 'Sheed way. It is impossible to explain and impossible to google, but I swear some people will know what I'm talking about.
In lieu of providing this, here's Wallace signing along to GNR:
This is your erratic reminder that Rasheed Wallace should succeed the Most Interesting Man In The World.
That is not relevant, but you start looking up Rasheed Wallace videos on Youtube and things get crazy.
Green has guaranteed the return game($):
"They won three. Before that, how many how had they won?" Green said. "They got their little three, but they come to East Lansing in a few weeks.
"They better celebrate this one, because I can guarantee you they won’t get one in East Lansing. You can quote me on that one."
Three straight is of course half of Green's career against Michigan to date (MSU was one-play a couple years ago), but don't ask a State attendee to do math.
RCMB provides the 'freude:
Last year was somewhat understandable. We were bad then. We are pretty good this year. Even a mediocre MSU team should blow Michigan out of the water. Michigan can't be good. It doesn't F---ING HAPPEN. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
What a knob.
MSU needs better S&C.
1/13/2011 – Michigan 4, Ohio State 0 – 13-8-4, 7-6-4 CCHA Gongshow
1/15/2011 – Michigan 4, Ohio State 1 – 14-8-4, 8-6-4 CCHA Gongshow*
[sitebulletin: I'm going to be in a car driving for most of the day, unfortunately. I thought I would be able to avoid doing this during the posting day but it turns out I have to get back to town earlier than I thought I would. Apologies. Basketball game column can be ably summarized by searching for "temper tantrum" on youtube.]
*[This is not an endorsement of the CCHA's advertiser. But seriously folks, "CCHA Gongshow" is impossible to pass up now that I know they did it to themselves a year after they unsuccessfully attempted to keep their conference from imploding. We have a new leader in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment-memorial most craven naming-rights sellout competition.]
head up. you are feeling totally copacetic, man
I'm not saying that Jon Merrill's suspension was a deviously ingenious experiment designed to turn a large group of people into connoisseurs of the little nuances of defensive play. The only reason I'm not is because I can't think of a motive.
Because even if that connoisseurship is a side effect, it is real. In the second period yesterday, Merrill made a clearing attempt, got it blocked, got bashed by a forechecker, and then whipped a hard pass to Alex Guptill's tape in a situation where 90% of college defensemen start breathing into a paper bag or bawling for their mom. Billy Jaffe, one of the the uncommonly useful color guys for Sunday's game, exclaimed "that's the move!" afterwards, and I was like "YES THAT IS THE MOVE." Later they put up a replay of a pass that never got out of the defensive zone.
The thing that Merrill gives Michigan is breathing room. Sure, he's piling up assists at a PPG pace and whipped a breathtaking breakaway pass to Phil Di Giuseppe on Sunday. These are nice things. They are intermittent, though. What's constant is how a game feels when Merrill's on the ice: calm, spacious, steady. Smooth like Billy Dee Williams with his Colt .45.
Jon Merrill is the Billy Dee Williams of hockey. Forecheck hard and Merrill will take the hit with his head up and make the move. Back off and Merrill is capable of going tape to tape in small windows over long distances. Instantly Michigan switches from reacting to a forecheck to forcing the opponent to react to it.
I'm not an expert on hockey. I came to the game when I was ten and haven't put in the UFRing required to get me to the extremely-informed-amateur level I am with football. In hockey, that feel is all I've got. It's done a 180 since Michigan picked itself up after the Alaska series thanks first to the emergence of the Guptill-Wohlberg-Brown line as a true #1 scoring unit and now Merrill's return turning the second (first?) pairing from a third unit trying to cope into a major strength.
On Sunday, Michigan felt elite for the first time this season. They outshot a 14-4-3 team significantly, dominated time on attack, and hardly gave up an even strength scoring chance, let alone a goal. Moffatt and Treais flashed dirty dangles and walked in on Cal Heeter. Heeter got chased halfway through the game.
It was a throwback to times when Michigan won hockey games without requiring nuanced views as to why this might have happened. (See: last year.) They won because they bruised every inch of two different goalies and, with limited exceptions, spent the whole game in the offensive end doing fun things.
This isn't all Merrill—half of Michigan's 6-0-2 run has come with Merrill observing or playing at the WJC—but with him around it seems more plausible that Michigan's recent run is a sustainable one. The GLI was a near thing. Michigan was dominated by BC but snuck a late goal against the run of play, then played dead in the third; they scraped the MSU game in overtime thanks to a goal with under a minute left.
That felt like finding a shiny penny on the street. This weekend Michigan gave up zero even-strength goals en route to sweeping the #2 team in the country. With Merrill around it's possible they've invested in a mint.
Calm, Easy Breathing Bullets
About that #1 line. Yowza. I can't recall a big guy who's come in with a mid-round NHL draft pedigree who's performed at the level Guptill has. Max Pacioretty was a first-rounder, Aaron Palushaj a second-rounder, and both of those guys were only sort of big. Other mid-round power forward types seem drafted on the principle that they won't shrink even if they don't display any NHL level skills.
Not so Guptill. His goal in the first period Sunday was a pure snipe into the upper right corner of the net from a somewhat awkward angle, and his ability to dump and chase into the corner is actually effective because he's got the speed and board play to set up possession in the opponent's zone. Then the rest of the line cycles.
Meanwhile, Brown has suddenly leapt forward to consistent productivity after a couple years of flashes but not much else. This does not appear to be the line carrying him—remember that he spent big chunks of his first two years with Caporusso or Hagelin as his center. He's making nice passes and the availability of pucks in the area where his size matters gives him the opportunity to sweep in (admittedly soft) goals like he opened the scoring with last year.
Wohlberg remains Wohlberg: good shooter, fast guy, decent stickhandler. His goal Sunday was soft but showed off his assets pretty well. As a whole they seem to have an identity they lacked apart. They drive the net, dump unless it's obvious they shouldn't dump, cycle, and score.
Power play. It technically didn't score since Michigan's second on Friday was deposited a couple seconds after the penalty expired, but the spirit of the law declares it did. They have looked intermittently better since the holiday break gave them an opportunity to rejigger what they were doing. They were good against State in the GLI final, pretty awful against LSSU, and back to threatening against OSU.
Over the weekend they were moving the puck and getting shots on net that were not getting blocked above the faceoff circles. I'll take it. Eventually they'll get some puck luck.
Sinelli. Through the mist of hazy Sparks complaints I can see why Sinelli has taken a regular shift over not only Sparks but Rohrkemper, as he's a decently speedy guy who makes effort plays on the regular.
CCHA Gongshow. The league remains an incredibly tight sack of cats. By points Michigan surged into third with its weekend sweep; on winning percentage they are still fifth behind OSU, WMU, ND, and FSU. Notre Dame is third in winning percentage and sixth on points because they have two games in hand on everyone in front of them.
The 9th place team, Northern, is one game below .500 in conference and would easily make the tournament if the season ended today. It is a weird year.
BONUS: Michigan's goal differential is now the best in the league at +14. They've scored five more goals than their nearest competitor, OSU, and not even the relentlessly excellent defense of… wait for it… Western Michigan can get them past M. They're +13. Yes, I just said excellent defense and Western Michigan in the same sentence. No, I don't know why they held on to Jim Culhane for a decade. FWIW, OSU would still be tops in the league if they hadn't given up two empty-netters on Friday.
Pairwise. This is faintly ridiculous: after we spent most of the first half kissing our tourney streak goodbye, Michigan is now on the cusp of a one seed. They rank 5th. I can't give you the nitty gritty details because my favorite Pairwise site hasn't updated for yesterday's game yet. CHN's has and has Michigan fifth. This is not a fluke based on TUC or COP records that are liable to change with the win: Michigan's RPI is also fifth.
It's also not something liable to persist unless Michigan keeps winning. Michigan's flown up from out of the tourney to nearly a one seed in three weekends. They can drop back down just as fast.
There are still seven-ish CCHA teams in the tourney with MSU, Miami, and Denver tying for 15th. More realistically it would be six.
Have fun storming the castle. This looks less daunting what with the winning and all, but yeesh the final five weekends:
- @ Notre Dame
- @ MSU, MSU @ JLA
- @ BGSU
BGSU is not good; everyone else will be fighting tooth and nail for tourney positioning or a bid, period. ND is the toughest team statistically, FWIW. They have a +5 GD in conference; MSU is +4, Miami +1, and NMU –2. Sack of cats, I tell you.
Anything I can do you can do dumber. It's hard to see in this shot but lord, OSU's jerseys were goofy:
The zillion oversized Buckeye leaves were reminiscent of Ghost of Bo's legendary parody(?) football unis. Clean, simple lines are preferable. Even Michigan's jerseys could use a little cleaning up. OSU's were reminiscent of…
…yeah, you know it.
Official site recap has pictures and whatnot. Michigan Hockey Net describes the game as a "clinic." A few AP photos. Daily article quotes Wohlberg sounding somewhat badly translated from the Japanese:
“You saw after they scored their first goal, it was a big uprising for them. Then when we go out and we score two real quick, it’s a big push for us, and I think it emptied their spirits.”
1/11/2011 – Michigan 66, Northwestern 64 (OT) – 14-3, 4-1 Big Ten
I blame the Sugar Bowl trophy. Clearly, this edition has fey powers. Those powers are 1) making everything around it uglier so that it seems pretty in comparison and 2) driving Michigan towards improbable victories it does not seem to deserve.
Because of the trophy's presence we got an extensive dose of the exasperated wail basketball has a near-monopoly on*. Scoring is so frequent that extended droughts are rare, rarer still when the team in question is getting of a wide variety of high-quality shots. When that happens and the home team is still missing, still missing, still—argh that one was halfway down—missing, each subsequent missed opportunity comes with a rising crescendo of despair. Normally calm old men start throwing their hands hither and thither. People lose their minds the fifth time "all right, two points" turns into "how did you miss that?"
By my calculations, all minds in Crisler last night were lost 2.4 times in the first half. Michigan limped to the locker room trailing by seven after shooting 25% on their twos. One three that bounced in and around the rim before popping out caused a guy in front of me to undergo this sort of arms-raised twitchy anger dance. I felt ill.
It didn't seem like the team was playing poorly—at least not on offense—but rather that it had been cosmically ordained from above that Michigan was to lose this game. If it had been a video game, 15 minutes in would have been controller-throwing, reset-hitting, pout-and-watch-TNG time.
But they won, didn't they? They won by brutalizing Northwestern on the boards and in turnover margin, by somewhat limiting Wildcat threes (27% opposed to their usual 33%) and refusing to foul unless someone was launching a wild three with less than a second on the clock. It was ugly and terrible; it was the game that you point to at the end of the season as One Of Those Games. It was the inexplicable loss you suck up and overcome… and they won.
So okay. Damage escaped, Iowa next, let's keep on inching.
Bullets that could use a GPS or something
The hedge. Northwestern fiercely hedged all ball screens with Burke and got away with every single one. Burke tried to split one late and was fortunate to get a tenuous kicked ball call; all other saw him take the long way and not end up punishing the hedge.
This is a spot in which Morris had a major advantage because he was a half-foot taller and lanky. Hedge like that and the ball is going to the big slipping the screen for a 70% chance at a Jordan Morgan basket, or Morris will peel around the big guy with a good chance at catching him out of position and using his height to get a solid look. Burke… well, we need some work there.
Hypothesis 1: he should try to use his quickness by accelerating into the hedger before he can get set and get those Chauncey Billups calls. Hypothesis 2: we should run more pick and roll with Hardaway, who can pass over the shorter guy or drive to the basket against a guy who will probably not be blocking his shot. Hardaway has such height and elevation that little pull up jumpers are a high percentage business.
Do you think Beilein would be amenable to answering questions like that?
Small ball. I'm not sure if Northwestern's small lineup killed Michigan or not, what with the massive offensive rebounding numbers Michigan put up and Carmody's decision to go with Mirkovic for most of the stretch. If Michigan's shooting anywhere near a reasonable percentage given their shot quality the offensive benefits of the small lineup are outweighed by their terrible D numbers.
Michigan ended up going small in response, spending much of the second half switching Smotrycz and Morgan O for D; Stu Douglass ended up playing 38 of 45 minutes.
Insane devotion to foul orthodoxy. I can see yanking Smotrycz after his second since Michigan had a reason to go small and Smotrycz is the kind of guy who will foul out if you don't keep an eye on him. But Novak? UMHoops mentioned this gently; I'll restate: guy averages 2.8 fouls per 40 minutes. The risk of bringing him back in for the last five minutes of the first half is not high.
Stu! Douglass has quietly been an effective, important player in the last three games. His shooting helped a lot against Indiana and Wisconsin and his perimeter defense is the best on the team by a wide margin. He had five steals against Wisconsin and two in this game.
Even more importantly, switching Douglass onto Crawford slowed him considerably. In the second half and OT, Crawford had one dunk he was given after Michigan played great defense to deny three-point opportunities as NU wound the clock from 22 seconds to 8 and went 5/6 on free throws from Morgan and Burke fouls. The Douglass matchup:
- 1 steal
- 2 TO
- 1/5 from 2
- 0/1 from 3
IIRC Hardaway had Crawford for most of the first half when he went 6 of 9 with a made three.
Douglass couldn't throw it into Gordon Gee's mouth in this game but since no one other than Hardaway could that's a criticism to save for another time. Even so he was Michigan's second most efficient scorer in this game with 10 points on 10 shots; Hardaway and Burke bested him but Burke only did so thanks to his end-of-game free throw spree.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Ice cold, young man, especially after playing the entire game.
Hardaway launch pad. He took a couple of wince-inducing threes but they went down in this outing. One was a heat check that is not statistically more likely to go in but is impossible to prevent even the meekest low usage guy from taking, so okay.
Two for one. Beilein went for one at the end of the game; it did not work out because the pass to Hardaway was a little off and the resulting Novak three left only a six-second difference between shot and game clock, and then the insane Hardaway foul erased that. Good idea, though.
Speaking of. Ohmygawd what was that at the end of the game? If Northwestern had been in the bonus I think my head would have come off. They are letting almost everything slide and then they call a nothing foul with ten seconds left. Face, meet palm.
And then Douglass hacks the hell out of Crawford because Michigan has fouls to give and the refs ignore that. Quite a sequence there. Don't get me started on Novak trying to take charges.
Timeouts. Argh. All basketball games would be improved by cutting two timeouts. This one would have been immensely so.
*[Hockey has a version of it when one team is throwing chance after chance at a hot goalie and his even hotter goalposts in a close game—call it the Ryan Miller Experience. Baseball has nothing like it and the tenor of a frustrated football crowd is different; the anger is usually more directed. This frustration is a cosmic one.]
Sorry for the late post. WLW crashed at the worst time possible and their auto-recover function didn't work since it only took down one of my windows. So the column bit is shorter and I'll find links later.
1/8/2012 – Michigan 59, Wisconsin 41 – 13-3, 3-1 Big Ten
If Michigan's season to date was a rollercoaster, it would be one with a cartoon bumblebee on the first car and a You Must Be This Short To Ride This Ride sign out front. They've beaten the teams they were supposed to beat, lost to the ones they were supposed to lose to, and done these things more or less convincingly. Maybe the Virginia loss was a disappointment, but they're 14-1 now. Maybe Minnesota was uncomfortable. These are not events that will cause anyone in a television studio to talk about Michigan's wild season.
On the whole, that's a positive, but it does leave you wondering if Michigan is taking a step forward. Once Trey Burke hit the ground running it seemed like they should, but when you're sifting through the evidence all you've got are some instances of not blowing it. Tough to judge, that.
An 18-point win against Wisconsin is a step forward even if they're notoriously overrated by Kenpom. They are also rated by the people who vote in these things. North Carolina had to scrape by them at home; it took Michigan State overtime to dispatch them. They will likely recover from this sour start to easily claim an NCAA tourney bid, and Michigan ran them out of the gym.
This has a directly comparable moment from last year. It was this:
DEATH TO BACKBOARDS
THAT IS ALL
At that point even that hopeless freshman playing pinball for the win was regarded as "man fun," evidence that Michigan's basketball program was alive at 17-12, 7-9 in the league.
Michigan was rebuilding and started the Big Ten season off so poorly that the narrative of the season was near-misses that would cost them a tourney bid until, suddenly, it wasn't. When they got the bid they were staring down a second round matchup with Duke and the Sweet 16 was not a consideration until Darius Morris was running at the basket with time winding down.
This year they're coming at it from ahead, with a win or two in their pocket and a hope for more. Next year they won't be rebuilding anything. They'll be built, and expectations will loom. Right now we're going through the last vestiges of having no expectations because we have no program. Step by step, inch by inch, Michigan departs its past and becomes something else.
Bullets that can hit the backboard all they want
TREY BURKE! Burke followed up the worst game of his young career by outplaying Jordan Taylor. Taylor had a couple baskets late when he started forcing quick shots; these came against Stu Douglass and were desperate heaves in any case. In the first half Taylor had 4 points on 2 of 8 shooting; he hit a single additional three against Burke in the second half. For the game Taylor's late chucks got him to 12 points on 15 shots; Burke was not the model of efficiency but had 14 on the same number of shots. He did not pick up a single foul.
The rest of the defense! Michigan held Wisconsin to 0.76 points per possession, UW's worst output of the year. Marquette is next best at 0.86. I'm not sure how or why this happened, but it was no fluke. Wisconsin could not find an open shot anywhere. Despite having a terrible night, Taylor was forced into an even larger share of the offense than he usually has. He averages around 25% of UW's shots and hit 30% in this game.
Michigan showed on ball screens and Wisconsin could not pick and roll or find post players in good position. The Badgers had maybe three open looks from three all game, one transition basket, and vanishingly few dunks and layups.
Hardaway: more turnovers please. Last year, this site identified Tim Hardaway's abnormally low turnover rate for a high-usage freshman as a reason he would be an efficient player going forward. It would now like to retract that assertion since now it seems to mean Hardaway is settling for a lot of long twos.
In the last two games he's probably shot a half-dozen jumpers from just inside the three-point line with more than 25 seconds on the shot clock. I don't care who you are: that is not a good shot. You can make the case for the occasional semi-contested jacked up three as a decent opportunity that opens up later driving. You cannot for a slightly shorter shot that has about the same chance of going in but provides 33% less reward. Can Hardaway get that anytime he wants? Yes. Try to find something better with the time allotted.
If this results in more turnovers from young Skywalker, so be it. He's shooting 27% from 3—and probably about that from just inside 3—and 58% from two. Either drive to the basket or kick, and take the threes only when they come to you.
He seems to be overreacting to the first half/second half thing and is now shooting everything all the time. His shot% has cracked 30% and is now in the top 100, which is frustrating when a lot of the shots he's adding are low quality and he's got guys like Novak, Morgan and Smotrycz hanging out being deadly when the offense can create a shot for them.
Sanity check on aisle Wisconsin. Like Miami (That Miami) finishing third in offensive FEI, Wisconsin tenaciously clinging to their #2 spot in Kenpom despite a 1-3 Big Ten start is an unfortunate, credibility-sapping outlier. Sometimes these things happen to systems that try to rank teams by taking every possession into relatively equal account. Kenpom's strength of schedule adjustment is overwhelmed when a team beats its tomato cans by 54, 27, 36, 46, 23, 18, 33, and 34 in low-tempo outings. Computers have hearts, too. You can't expect them not to fall in love with that.
Wisconsin also has a narrow road loss to UNC and wins over Kenpom favorites BYU and UNLV, with only a home loss to Marquette a potential blemish before the clunky conference start. That the Badgers are still #2 after a home loss to Iowa and an 18 point blowout to M is a little dismaying; maybe Kenpom can find a way to discount possessions that are obviously scrub vs scrub or something.
UPDATE: Kenpom has a Wisconsin FAQ that seems driven by a lot of twitter @ replies.
The leap. The anticipated Kenpom surge was major: 12 spots—or three full seeding ranks in Pomlandia. Michigan's many indifferent outings against bleah competition saw them enter Big Ten play 52nd.
Let's go, Hoiberg Home for Lost Big Ten Boys. Michigan's meh nonconference schedule features just one win over a probable tourney participant (Memphis; Oakland is 3-4 in the Summit)… or at least it did until Iowa State swept Texas and A&M last week to kick off the Big 12 slate 2-0. The Cyclones also beat Iowa, which isn't a huge deal but does mean they're on a 7-game win streak in the aftermath of their loss in Crisler. Kenpom now projects a .500 conference record for them.
That would probably not get them in since their best nonconference win is against the Hawkeyes and they have losses to Drake and UNI, the other two instate schools. If they can swing an extra game or two their way, they could make it. FWIW, they're already in the top 50 in RPI.
The road ahead. Michigan has two should-win games next against Northwestern and Iowa. Iowa's on the road, though, which makes things touchy. See: recent Michigan trips to Carver-Hawkeye. See also: insane charge/block calls against Hardaway and Novak that cost Michigan the Indiana game.
Anyway, once they get past the next two games they have this daunting gauntlet (all rankings Kenpom):
- #7 Michigan State
- @ #85 Arkansas (annual inexplicable nonconference game)
- @ #29 Purdue
- @ #1 OSU
- #8 Indiana
- @ #7 Michigan State
If they can take care of business over the next week they can come out of that stretch .500 and still have established themselves a tourney lock. The home stretch is much easier: @ Nebraska, two against Illinois, @ Northwestern, @ Penn State, and return games from OSU and Purdue. If they manage to go 2-3 against the above conference opponents they'll be 7-4 in the toughest conference in the country with two gimmes and plenty of other games left to get to the .500 mark that will be auto entry for any B10 team this year.