good luck with that
10/5/2013 – Michigan 42, Minnesota 13 – 5-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Jon Falk has a compatriot at Minnesota. He's probably had a dozen over his 40 years as Michigan's equipment manager. Some guy who comes in with the latest Gopher coaching staff, wonders what it's like to hold the jug in his meaty palm, and maybe once gets to shepherd it for a year. Since Falk arrived at Michigan a fresh-faced young thing four years into Bo's career, his opposite number has had this experience three times.
In proof lingo, this means that beating Minnesota—beating up on Minnesota, usually—is a necessary but not sufficient property of Michigan teams that want to do anything with their seasons. Sometimes you can retain the Jug despite not being very good; sometimes you can retain the jug despite being headed for 3-9 because Nick Sheridan has an out-of-body experience. When you're headed for 3-9 you get a little misty about the Jug coming out. When you're not the worst team in Ann Arbor since the 1930s it's a checkbox to fill out.
Michigan did so in perfunctory style, grinding out a second half in which they went from vaguely threatened to bored. Since this came on the heels of narrow escapes against teams that lost 43-3 to Ohio on Saturday and 41-12 to Buffalo last week, it's progress. How much is unknown.
This game settled into a grim fugue state almost from the drop, as Michigan manballed its way into the endzone on a Statement Drive to start the game. Unfortunately, that Statement was "by putting Taylor Lewan next to Michael Schofield we can bull our way down the field against Minnesota." That statement is unlikely to apply to many teams on the schedule. But, hey, progress.
Then Minnesota donned turbans and embarked on the Ishtar Drive. An epic production galaxy-spanning in its dullness that arrived at its destination two hours too late and failed to have the desired impact, it ate up the rest of the quarter. Michigan left it without having attempted a pass.
This was a little dull.
It was the kind of dull that had Space Coyote, the Michigan's blogosphere's resident instant analysis savant, pleading with the masses that the intricacies of a well-blocked power play were just as appealing as, say, watching 175-pound Venric Mark activate his truck stick on an Ohio State safety. I can't imagine there's another Michigan fan in the world more receptive to that argument than yours truly and even I wasn't buying that as the secondary effect of all that manball kicked in: punt, commercial, play, end of quarter, commercial, play play, punt, commercial. Touchdown, commercial, kickoff, commercial—the NFL special. As the teams' attempt to blow through this game in record time was thwarted by the networks, being in Michigan Stadium became the worst concert of all time interrupted by bouts of football-related activity.
It was the kind of thing that made you consider what the purpose of your fandom was. Am I only here to see Michigan end a game with a larger number on the scoreboard than Opponent? Is there any valid goal outside of this? Am I a bad fan for wishing something interesting would happen? Do the people on twitter who scorn you for having feelings other than Go Team have a point? What is the point of any of this, and why can't they make the wifi work?
At halftime, the guys in front of me discussed whether they would bolt for Frazer's, and two did. I'm usually a guy who thinks leaving an athletic event before it's decided is a mortal sin, but I kind of envied the guy in the home-made muscle shirt screwing off to a place where he could get a beer and not hear "Build Me Up, Buttercup." At any other time, I would have thought this man's attendance at Michigan Stadium was a necessary property of a fan that he had just shown was not sufficient by leaving a touchdown game at halftime like he was a sorority girl about to blow a .341. On Saturday, I was with him in spirit.
This is a fearful development. I don't want to think like that. I want to be forever ten years old, excited by everything. On Saturday I had a long look down the elevator shaft.
It'll pass like the moment above did. Someone will do something interesting, and there will be something at stake other than a piece of crockery that just means you're not horrible, and sometimes not even that. I had a bad day, I was pissed at Dave Brandon when I discovered I was thirsty but knew I couldn't do anything about it without missing a large chunk of the game I was there to see even if it was narcoleptic, I was emo after the last few weeks of expectation-depressing terror. It'll pass, and the doors will close on the moment where I reached out and felt the slight outlines of a limit to my fandom.
Michigan won by a lot, eventually.
Completely one-sided highlights:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Has to be Michigan's new favorite worst nightmare at wide receiver: Devin Funchess. Relieved of many blocking duties and deployed on the outside, Funchess displayed fantastic hands on a couple of catches outside of his body, ran routes that got him tons of separation, and went right by a Minnesota cornerback(!) on a straight-up fly route(!) to prove himself Michigan's best deep threat(?). By the end of the game he had newspaper types plumbing the statistical depths for completely invalid comparisons to Jim Mandich, who was a tight end, which Devin Funchess is not.
Honorable mention: No Turnovers, which may be Devin Gardner's temporary name until such point as he turns it over. Schofield and Lewan were mashing as tackle brothers. Blake Countess did have a pick six, albeit one of no importance. James Ross and Desmond Morgan had lots of tackles, usually at the LOS when not facing spread formations.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
I guess? [Upchurch]
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Wow. Are we at a loss here? We might be at a loss here. Countess's interception was after the game was decided, as was the long Funchess fly route thing. Michigan's longest run went for not many yards. I guess we're going with Fitzgerald Toussaint scoring an easy ten-yard touchdown, as it hinted that Michigan may be able to run the ball forward? Yeah, okay.
Honorable mention: Funchess reception, pick one. Countess pick. Black FF.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
[After THE JUMP: actual game analysis instead of pathetic emo self-pity mooning!]
9/22/2013 – Michigan 24, UConn 21 – 4-0
I watched the UConn game with two diehards who happen to be in town from out of state. I'd spent large chunks of the past decade trying to get one of these guys to come over to watch Michigan games for the same reason he refused to do so: he experienced games on television as an emotional trial to be bested. I'm the same way, but talk only goes so far.
So there's four of us in the room when Devin Gardner takes off up the middle for a sixteen-yard touchdown on third and eleven. Michigan's up seven midway through the first quarter. No one does anything. There's no whooping or even a slight fist pump or a clap. We just stare at the television, internally relieved but marshaling our strength for the road ahead like international meth kingpins on the lamb.
It takes a special kind of paranoia to be petrified about a game like that against a team like that, but it was redeemed in full. The recent history of Michigan football* lends itself towards nuanced discussion of this particular vintage of terror, and this one was spicy and piquant with notes of Denard Robinson's role in 2009 Iowa and 2002 Utah, which ended 10-7 despite the Utah offense scraping together only 200 yards of total offense. The nose was full-bodied, redolent of 2010 Iowa, and 2010 Michigan State, and the first three quarters of 2011 Notre Dame.
The aftertaste was like filling your mouth with iron shavings and walking into a strong magnetic field.
One of the worst things from the worst things column last week was the familiarity of all this: struggles against mediocre competition that throw a wet blanket on your season after Michigan beats Notre Dame and gets all hyped up about it. To that you can add an even darker familiarity now, one that you may have been reminded of when ABC flipped to the end of the Texas-Kansas State game just in time to see Greg Robinson do a little dance of joy.
What is Michigan doing on offense? I don't know. They come in saying they're going to manball it up; they are largely prevented from doing so by Denard Robinson. They do dump the stretch play that had been Michigan's primary way of gaining yards on the ground for five years, when they have David Molk and Patrick Omameh and Michael Schofield on the interior of the line.
Denard's gone, as are Molk and Omameh; Schofield's at right tackle, a spot that's generally less important than those guard spots on stretch plays. So of course now is the moment when Michigan turns to the stretch as their base. They suck at that, unsurprisingly. They haven't run more than five stretch plays per year since Rodriguez left.
You could see the confusion last week, when guys were leaving first level defenders with easy paths to the backfield. Those plays against Akron were shockingly bad. You have a guy between yourself and the center, you deal with him before moving to the second level. Otherwise you die. Whether the issue there was the call or the execution, the underlying symptom is the same one that plagued Michigan's defense during the Rodriguez era: never settling on who you are and being terrible at everything as a natural consequence.
I mean, how insane is it that after two years with an offensive line entirely recruited to run the stretch they install it once Kyle Kalis is the right guard?
This is the second straight year Michigan has one of the worst running games in the country papered over by the fact that its quarterback can scoot for 40 yards without breaking a sweat. Toussaint can't see what's in front of his face sometimes. Neither can the line. While Toussaint showed his ability in open space on his touchdown, Michigan found itself behind the chains far too often against a defense that had just been ripped apart by Maryland. Michigan is looking up at North Texas, Tulane, and Florida Atlantic in TFLs allowed after four games. Michigan is 118th(!!!) of 123 qualifying teams in tackles for loss allowed.
Michigan lacks an identity, and once in a while they come out doing something completely different and disastrous (3-3-5 against Purdue; under center against Iowa). In this one, Gardner's inability to throw straight makes it impossible to judge the playcalling, but more ominous than the already-plenty-ominous dropoff of Michigan's quarterback is the persistent clown show on the offensive line. Any idea that the problems may have been fluky is now gone. This is Michigan, still: looking at the quarterback as the cause of and solution to all problems.
*[For a handy one-sentence review, let's go to the Hoover Street Rag:
Michigan is ALWAYS going to get an opponent's best shot, because if you beat Michigan, your name gets etched in history, next to the Appalachian States, next to the Toledos.
I am not sure if that is meant with ironic lilt or not. This is Michigan, fergodsakes?]
Also here is the bizarre Eminem-flavored opener.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. The only truly good things that happened in this game happened on defense and there was one incredibly critical play that turned the game around. You know what it is already; you know it's about to be featured in the double fist pump, you know that Desmond Morgan is the man who made the play.
Honorable mention: Frank Clark, for sacking people frequently. Blake Countess, for seeming to be good at coverage. Fitzgerald Toussaint, for busting a much needed 35-yard touchdown en route to a 100 yard game that means I no longer have to predict 100 yard games for Fitzgerald Toussaint every week in the game preview.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Michigan had just failed to convert a fourth and two, looked virtually incapable of driving the field against UConn, and trailed by seven points in the fourth quarter. UConn dropped to pass; Desmond Morgan dropped into a seam route, leap, speared the ball, and returned it to the UConn eleven yard line. One play later it was tied. Huzzah, Desmond Morgan.
Honorable mention: Frank Clark crushes UConn's inept right tackle for a critical sack on UConn's final drive. Gardner actually pitches on a speed option this time.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
[After the JUMP: PANIC and RUN AROUND SCREAMING.]
9/14/2013 – Michigan 28, Akron 24 – 3-0
What was the worst thing about the events that took place in Michigan Stadium on Saturday? There are dozens of candidates vying for the crown. A selection:
That moment when Taylor Lewan was down. Almost picked up the very cute small child in front of me and threw it onto the field. Hey, don't judge me. It could have popped on an Akron helmet and stopped Fitzgerald Toussaint for a one-yard loss. It would have been in no danger of anything except padding its stats.
Small children stopping Fitzgerald Toussaint for one-yard losses. Akron's line consists of a six-year-old, ten-year-old, a guy named Bob who they found walking into the game, and an actual scholarship athlete who chose Akron and is therefore so crazy he insists everyone calls him "Pope Licentiousness III." Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged under four yards a carry against them, and about 80% of his first down runs resulted in second and eleven.
That pick-six. Not digging that M starts every game in an 0-7 hole.
All of it. An obvious contender.
The ruination of an entire Saturday of college football. Don't know about you, but that sapped me so much that I could barely remain awake after it and looked at the other games dully before falling asleep just into the second half of Purdue-Notre Dame. I missed the Wisconsin-Arizona State madness as a result. Never has a win felt so much like a loss.
The severe correction in season expectations. Michigan plays Akron straight up; Notre Dame executes a stirring fourth-quarter comeback to top a team that beat Indiana State thanks to a trick kickoff return on the first play of the day. I liked it better when Michigan had solidly defeated a team obviously headed for ten wins because of its overwhelming talent, and was not the equal of one of the worst teams in college football.
The repudiation of the idea that events follow from other events and can be projected with any certainty. Just because something happened before does not mean it is likely to happen again. Devin Gardner can beat Notre Dame nearly singlehandedly and lose to Akron nearly singlehandedly. Michigan can look like the best team in the Big Ten for two weeks and play a dead-even game with a team that has gone 1-11 the past three seasons and hasn't beaten a I-A opponent since November of 2010. At any moment the laws of physics that bind our component molecules together could catastrophically alter themselves, turning us all into rapidly disintegrating collections of atoms that suddenly hate each other. (IE, how you felt in the fourth quarter.)
My adorable nine-year old niece experiencing her first Michigan game one seat away from me. Sometimes it is nice to take the pressure building inside your head and throw some of it into the atmosphere via colorful expectoration of words. In this manner, you vent dangerous levels of pressure to the atmosphere. When the best you can muster is an under-your-breath "Jesus Christ," your inner control panels look like Chernobyl instead of Fukushima, and you can hear the BEEP BLORP BEEP BLORP as you try not to fall over.
MGoNiece reports that the game was "fun" and "exciting," and not "three hours during which I learned many new words that make my mom cry and that Uncle Brian is possessed by Satan." MGoNiece remains as pure as the driven snow, at all costs.
How familiar it all felt. The first time I thought "this can't be happening" in Michigan Stadium, Michigan was losing to Northwestern. That Northwestern outfit would win en route to their first Rose Bowl in forever, but they walked in overrated pretenders to my 15-year-old self. They were not. Over the course of the game my attitude shifted from annoyance to disappointment to concern to chest-clenching-panic. Back then I kept thinking "how can this happen?"
Here we are again, following up a Notre Dame win with a severe expectations check that bodes unwell for the season. In 2010, a 42-37 win over UMass was an early indicator that Michigan had the worst defense in the history of the program. This one promises a year of quarterbacks given time to complete PhDs in the pocket and far too many "my bad" blocks.
Now our best hope is that contender a little farther up the page: that causation has failed and we're just coasting along on the universe's sufferance. Michigan will come out against UConn and turn them into gray paste, because that's what the random number generator says next Saturday. That's the ticket.
I don't think "how can this happen" anymore. Not after 10-7 over Utah or 24-21 over SDSU or that Ball State game or The Horror or Toledo. I think "not again." I thought I was done thinking "not again" for a while. Apparently not. I'll be over here, trying to keep all my molecules from fleeing into space.
This is Akron's perspective:
At 1:40 you can see that the pick intended for Gallon is just a horrible read; with the corner sinking the crossing route to Funchess is the obvious throw. The deciding play from the first row of the student section.
He's going to have to start putting some good things that happen to the other team if he can only get up to seven minutes by including Akron not executing the snap correctly.
[After THE JUMP: a first-ever for Epic Double Point, and a lot of complaining.]
8/31/2013 – Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9 – 1-0
oh yeah Kalis and Magnuson beardin' it up yo [Upchurch]
You may not remember this because of the recent history of Michigan football, but often after one-sided blowouts not against Notre Dame this space will throw up its hands at the idea of crafting an actual column and skip straight to bullets and highlights and whatnot. It's tough to narrate the emotional tenor of a humid August day against a team that never had a chance.
MY COLUMN ABOUT THIS FIFTY POINT WIN THAT MADE MY WIFE MAD BECAUSE SHE FELT BAD FOR THE OPPONENT
It was kind of boring, but on the other hand it was nice not to be terrified. It was hot and Dave Brandon smells like pee.
But, you know, at some point in the third quarter Michigan threw a second team offense out there, and it was thrilling. I know this is basically me saying "hello, I am freak. Freak talk now. Freak talk." But there it is. I actually felt excited when the second-team OL came out, possibly more excited than I had been for anything that was not Dennis Norfleet all day. Ben Braden was out there. Chris Bryant. Blake Bars. Erik Magnuson. Joey Burzynski. One walk-on (not four); no upperclassmen. The future. Magnuson even got in on the goal line and did well for himself.
Michigan loses Lewan and Schofield; they also get six more bullets in their chamber as the 2013 OL class comes off redshirts, chomping at the bit. The days when Michigan's depth chart reads "three to five guys, then a bottomless pit" are close to over. Might already be over.
On the other side of the ball the equivalent moment came too soon to even think about it: the second drive. Michigan threw four guys out there who hadn't played on the first drive, and switched up some linebackers, and I'm not sure fans who don't obsessively track the numbers of everyone in the game would even notice. They'd go three deep at many spots by halftime.
They'll graduate three of the 20 players in the front seven who saw the field, and nobody from the secondary. Because of suspension and injury in the safety corps, yeah. But still.
Take this depth chart. Stack the 2014 depth chart behind it. Put 2015 behind that. You can even go to 2016, probably, what with Michigan's 2015 class approaching halfway done already. What do you get?
An infinite conveyor belt of shark teeth. It's coming. Might be here already.
There's also a shorter BTN reel.
Eric and Bryan posted their galleries on Sunday. A season-opening reminder: all photos on the mgoblog photostream are Creative Commons licensed and can be used on your blog or twitter or facebook or whatever (just not sold). We just ask for a link back.
Meanwhile Roy Roundtree is pretty great y'all:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Difficult to pick any one person here since no one had more than four catches or 14 rushing attempts and Gardner threw two ugly picks in 15 attempts. Meanwhile on defense, the heavy rotation meant no one except Desmond Morgan had more than five tackles.
But… Cam Gordon looked good and his two sacks are the most statistically impressive achievement on the day. And Brennen Beyer only got credited for one sack but really had two, a sack/strip and then a plain ol' sack, both of which appear in the highlights above. On both he beat blockers. Gordon got his on (well timed, effective, finished) blitzes. Since everyone is feeling much, much better about Not Jake Ryan, Not Jake Ryan gets the nod.
Honorable Mention. Jarrod Wilson (for a guy who supposedly lost his job to Courtney Avery he was lights out); Jeremy Gallon (a couple tough catches amongst his four, and two touchdowns); Devin Gardner (okay, yeah, but Vince Young); Fitz Toussaint (looked goooood despite lack of stats); AJ Williams (provisional based on possibility he was caving in the outside of the CMU defense.)
Epic Double Point Standings.
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. The blocked punt touchdown set the tone, showed us the crazy explosiveness of Dymonte Thomas (Heiko and Ace point out that he blocked it before it even hit the punter's foot), gave us some faith that special teams might be a real asset this season, and was a Heartwarming Moment when former walk-on Joe Reynolds scored his first touchdown. So that.
Honorable mention: Desmond Morgan embodies his description in the season preview with a textbook stick of Zurlon Tipton; Cam Gordon invades the backfield to make us all feel better about Not Jake Ryan; ditto Beyer; Derrick Green rips off a 30-yarder; Reynolds brings in a tough 50-yard catch.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
Burned redshirt watch
A first-game thing to do.
On offense: De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Csont'e York, Jake Butt, and Shane Morris.
All of these make sense to me. Playing one of the freshmen wideouts makes sense, one or both running backs could help Michigan win a game this year, ditto Butt, and Morris needs blooding.
On defense: Delano Hill, Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas, Taco Charlton, Ben Gedeon.
Despite previous complaints about burning either LB redshirt, if Gedeon is the backup WLB I'm fine with it. He appears to be. Everyone else is obvious save Jourdan Lewis, and even if that's a debatable decision M is still redshirting two corners this year and brings in Jabrill Peppers next year. I don't think they'll be moaning about a lack of a fifth year for Lewis.
Probably redshirting: All OL, Wyatt Shallman, Jaron Dukes, Khalid Hill, Da'Mario Jones, Reon Dawson, Ross Douglas, Henry Poggi, Maurice Hurst, Mike McCray. McCray is a bit of a surprise after the number change seemingly designed to get him on special teams with Dileo. I'm very much in favor of a redshirt to get some separation here. Everyone else is obvious save maybe Hill.
[Rest after the jump]
4/6/2013 – Michigan 61, Syracuse 56 – 31-7, championship game
he doesn't actually have to do anything the game is ova the queensbury thing to do is to slow up and I don't know take a foul or something or probably just wait around until the buzzer goes off
srsly are you insane
--Brian Cook's brain, 4/6/2013
That happened pretty quickly there as the brain assembled Syracuse's pregame dismissiveness of Michigan with who had the ball: Jordan Morgan. Morgan, who had just rescued Michigan's bacon by taking a charge on trash-talking Brandon Triche. Morgan, who went from a three-year starter to afterthought as Mitch McGary blew up. One technical for hanging on the rim is requested. Oh god no actually nevermind.
Morgan may not have had a bone sticking out of him a week ago but his emotional state has to be even more roiled than Kevin Ware. Ware just has to watch everything pensively and not pick his nose during the 15 minutes of gametime he is on screen. Morgan has to go out there and do things. When these things start with Morgan fumbling a sure layup out of bounds, he knows the exact tenor of the moans in the crowd, how even if only 5% of them are actually saying something nasty the rest are thinking it.
Kevin Ware's just a fan for the moment. For long stretches of this last month I've wondered if sometimes Morgan wished he could be. And the living envied the dead.
This was a zombie apocalypse of a game. Most of it was spent with Michigan players peering between the trees, trying to figure out anything approximating a path to the basket. They were not forthcoming. Almost half of Michigan's attempts were from three, many of those the sort of desperation heaves that Syracuse thrives on inducing. Michigan's main accomplishment on many possessions was to not turn the ball over.
Basically every number in the box score that isn't McGary and Robinson throwing down putbacks is ugly. Stauskas: 0-5. Hardaway: 1/6 from two, 3/10 from three. Burke: 1/8. Michigan put together a strong first half on the back of some shots from outside the dome and then collapsed, scoring a miserable 0.74 PPP in the second half. And won.
Syracuse meanwhile shot 21% from 3 and only approached 50% from two because CJ Fair was knocking down sixteen-footer after sixteen-footer. Michigan's approach on offense was Lloydball not just for the harrowing final few minutes but the whole game, shutting down Syracuse's transition offense (just two fast break points) at the expense of even bothering to use Trey Burke, for the most part. There were a couple of possessions in which Burke dribbled himself to a profitable spot, and it seemed strange and frustrating on all those other possessions where he just passed it around the perimeter.
It was Big Ten grind. Thoughts turned to similar games this year when fortune and malice conspired to screw Michigan. Kansas? Don't talk to me about Kansas when Spike Albrecht misses the front end of a one-and-one. I can only think about Indiana, about that time when refs decide they Will Not Decide The Game—clean block at right via Dustin Johnston—and missed front ends and the moment Morgan fell off a cliff like the basketball he left on the rim for weeks until it decided to go the wrong way.
Morgan went away then. The next game was a 2/6 struggle against Penn State in which Morgan was quickly shuffled to the bench after a bobbling start; Mitch McGary came on, racked up a double-double, and that was pretty much that. The nail in the coffin was the next night. Morgan started against Wisconsin, racking up 3 TOs and no shots in 8 minutes. He evaporated straight off the court, opacity dropping to zero percent in front of thousands.
McGary then turned into Wes Unseld—if you haven't heard, ask Jeff Withey. It was Wally Pipping so fierce they might rename the thing, or at least provide a corollary. To get Jordan Morganed is to have your brain damaged by an on-court experience and then watch your backup eat your job in two seconds.
Unless McGary adds 40% three-point shooting to his ever-expanding repertoire—actually, I give that 50/50 at this point—Jordan Morgan's probably never going to start at Michigan again. That's rough for a player who's had confidence issues forever. Probably the first thing Michigan fans heard about the guy was MSU fans making fun of Michigan recruiting someone who infamously broke down in tears at some camp or something. Derrick Nix may have been involved. I don't remember the exact details. I do remember the implication.
Soft. Jordan Morgan was supposed to be soft. May actually be "soft," whatever that means. It's impossible to watch the ups and downs of his career and not think that he lacks the icy veins of a Trey Burke, that he probably experiences sports as oceans of terror punctuated by islands of relief. I know that feel, bro. It's an entirely different kind of courage there. To barely outrun fear is different than simply not having it.
He has done it. After the madness of the last week's Kansas ending and yesterday, Morgan's shattered quote in the aftermath of the South Dakota State game has an entirely different meaning:
"I think I was in for like two possessions, and got two stops… I mean, that's what I do."
Jordan Morgan may fumble balls out of bounds, but in the most harrowing moments of… well, probably his life, his brain worked. He knew Elijah Johnson was going too fast, too far away from the basket to get a shot. He knew he could get to the spot against Brandon Triche. He got stops. Michigan continues on.
I was torn, so deputized! By all rights Mitch McGary deserves one of these things and I haven't actually written one. The secret weapon is Ace, who I badgered into typing something up about Enormous Doom Puppy. I felt this was a bench game, though, so I wanted to focus on a bench player. Also that charge made me carefully extract one of the carefully hoarded swear words from the vault and deploy it. So… yeah.
Speaking of the bench…
This is why you burn Caris LeVert's redshirt. This is why you bring in Spike Albrecht. When they did the former I muttered a number of things about how if you think Caris can give you a few possessions of anything in a tournament game, you have to play him because this is a year in which all of the eggs go in the basket. Meanwhile, everyone in the world cocked an eyebrow at bringing in this little post-grad point guard.
All bow to John Beilein. Albrecht and Levert were collectively the only things saving Michigan from a disastrous three-point shooting night and tourney exit, going 4/5 as the rest of the team was 4/19. Levert added a couple of assists and fine defense in 21 minutes, which is a career high in games when Michigan has full complement of players*. I believe he was mostly checking James Southerland. Since Southerland is not named CJ Fair he had a crappy night.
Meanwhile I must have had a lot of company when my brain started going SPIKE WHERE IS SPIKE when Syracuse deployed their press at the end. That's quite a move, when people are moaning in all caps to themselves about your absence.
*[He had more in the CMU game, which Hardaway missed, and the MSU game at Crisler when Nik Stauskas got his face exploded by Branden Dawson's elbow.]
Also, Mitch. It says something that McGary is still making my jaw drop five games into this run. Six assists increased his career total by a third and tripled his game high, plus he shot okay (4/8) in a game where shooting "okay" is fantastic and ripped down 12 boards. What can you say? There is no comparable. If someone does this in the future, or even looks like doing this over a couple games, they will namecheck him. Because there is no one else.
The free throws, yeah. Louisville might try to exploit that with backup big Stephen Van Treese, who was instantly attacked whenever he hit the floor by Wichita. Might cost Michigan some points.
McGary part 2: boards. Michigan won the board war 36%-29%, and while that Michigan OREB number isn't too surprising against a zone, Syracuse was a crushing OREB machine all year and Michigan held them below the D-I average. Remember earlier in the year when Michigan's outstanding rebounding was the shaky tent pole propping up their entire defense? And how when that went away late in Big Ten play, it collapsed? Opponent OREB numbers in the tourney:
32% is average. The top major-conference team, Arizona, held opponents to 27%. One of Louisville's main assets is their OREB.
Wha happen? How did Syracuse almost halve Michigan's PPP in the second half? This is a thing that I'd need to watch the film closely to figure out but I have some outlines in my head: two possessions into the second half I thought Michigan should call timeout because 'Cuse had changed what they were doing in the zone and Michigan seemed confused.
One, they extended it. Two, they brought up the wing player on the left up, presenting something that looked closer to a 3-2 zone—which as far as I know does not exist—when the ball was at the top of the key. It felt like pushing out this far should have left gaps for GRIII running the baseline for lobs and whatnot but Michigan never found that play. The zone adaptation made Michigan's three-pointers seem even less like good ideas, and hampered the McGary high post game that was so effective in the first half. Michigan never really adjusted.
Trey at least took MCW with him. Burke had a pretty terrible night. It was nowhere near as terrible a the one he induced Michael Carter-Williams into. Syracuse came out trying to post MCW on Burke, which lasted one possession without an entry pass. They probably should have gone back to it, since for the rest of the game Carter-Williams got nothing. He was 1/6 from the floor, didn't get to the line, had just two assists to his five turnovers, and fouled out. ORTG: 28. Burke was a 90 despite the crappy shooting because of his 4:1 A:TO ratio.
Okay guy. Syracuse was in a lot of trouble at the end what with both of the starting guards having fouled out, but that Cooney guy tried to go to the basket down three with under ten seconds left. And then took a tough, contested shot. From two. Okay guy.
I know that feel Rapture guy. Yup, same guy from the GIF:
I'm just glad I wasn't wearing an awesome hat that caused people to take pictures of me at whatever this juncture was.
Watching basketball in a dome. We were in the 200 level in a corner, and this was surprisingly fine. It was a bit far away but I saw the Morgan charge and immediately thought "charge"; ie, I felt I had a good idea of what was going on almost all of the time.
I thought the novelty of a Final Four would be a one-time thing and I would not return if Michigan were to make one in the future. After last night I've flipped on that. If you can stay out of the upper deck it's worth it.
So… this happened. I'm not sure whether to spank or kiss these children.
Is the addition of he Webber pictures gratuitous or necessary shock therapy? Were these moppets close enough to the sideline that Michigan's players could see them? Did everyone in the arena immediately think about this when Michigan burned its last TO with over two minutes left? Don't know, better have been, yes.
Is there an entire article about timeouts? You betcha.
The best thing about Denard Robinson. He was there, in much better seats than I had, and there was chatter about this in my section. With three minutes left they put him on the video board and he looked exactly how I felt. In my experience this never happens* because athletes are understandably cool about the whole cheering for athletes thing. Denard Robinson looked sick with three minutes left and I was I KNOW THAT FEEL BRO and and some point during our eons-long departure from the Georgia Dome we realized he was walking 50 feet behind us and wondered if we could just, like, give him money now that his eligibility had expired. We chickened out; I think to do that at that moment would have been somehow insulting.
But anyway, I get annoyed at everything and they put Denard on the board at the Final Four and he looked like he'd eaten a sea urchin and I felt better. Denard!
*[Though I wish that Jordan Kovacs was famous enough for the world's Nantzes to put him on the video board. He was also there, wearing his hard hat and Cronin's Cronies T and getting crap about the hard hat. Kovacs, always Kovacs.]
'Cusefreude. I really like the SU blog presence—Troy Nunes is in fact an absolute magician—but they do have a terrible, RCMB-glory-days board at Syracusefans.com if you want to wallow. MGoUser "Captain" headed over to TNIAAM and recovered choice bits:
If McGary and Aaron Craft had a baby I would punch it right in the face
srsly cuse baseball cap thrown hard enough will crack an LCD... i learned the hard way
Jordan Morgan made someone throw their hat so hard it broke their TV. Yeah, that gets you a game column.
Five Key Plays. I know you just want this one first.
Presser transcript. UMHoops recap. Terry Mills! Ann Arbor is happy. Bill Tennant, did you really say "frickin'?" I doubt it. Bacari Alexander pregame involves anything other than orange juice lol jk orange juice:
While the Wolverines are keeping themselves humbled and hungry, Alexander has to think of a motivational tool for when Michigan faces Syracuse in one of Saturday’s national semifinal games.
The choice seems obvious to him — orange juice.
“You know that did happen two years ago when we played Syracuse, (a 53-50 loss), out in Atlantic City, and Evan Smotrycz, who was on our roster at the time, was quite upset that I soiled his jersey,” Alexander said. “I hope Evan forgives me. Evan, if you’re out there watching, I’m sorry.”
ATLANTA -- Zack Novak sat in the stands, after being granted a few days off from his professional team in the Netherlands, watching his former coach and teammates advance to the national championship game.
"We wish you were still playing," one Michigan fan said to Novak, who graduated a year ago.
"No, you don't," he replied. "Because now you're seeing what happens when that man has talent."
"We just told him, if we win this whole thing, you're going to have a moment," Michigan senior captain Josh Bartelstein said of Morgan. "And that's going to be the reason we win.
"And sure enough, his moment came tonight. I'm just so happy for him."
Niyo on reserves:
"I think it says we're a team — a true team" assistant coach LaVall Jordan said. "Everybody always says Trey Burke and the Wolverines. But we're a true team."
True to their word, they proved it again Saturday, as a couple freshman role players off the bench provided the early spark and a marginalized upperclassmen sealed the deal.
Hey, Spartans: Just this once, it's OK to cheer for Wolverines
3/31/2013 – Michigan 79, Florida 59 – 30-7, Final Four
There was a point—probably the 360 GRIII dunk against Minnesota that capped a fist-pumping, game-sealing run on the home floor of what then seemed like a top-ten opponent—when this Michigan team's ceiling seemed limitless. If Michigan needed points, Trey Burke snapped his fingers and it was so. Nik Stauskas was flirting with all-time three-point shooting records; Tim Hardaway Jr seemed to have played himself into the first round, no questions. Defense was a minor issue, surely.
I spent chunks of words around this point talking about how everyone should grab this team and hold on tight, because joys like this don't come around very often. I think I wrote like three columns exhorting anyone who happened across this here blog to set aside cynicism or reserve and prise open their chest, the better to let your heart pound loose and free in the exhilaration of the moment.
Coming down from that was terribly sad. The shellshock of the first OSU game was okay, because they were young and still fought back like champions. That happened before the GR360 anyway. Losing at Indiana was expected, and relatively competitive and the Kohl Center debacle was a fluke. It was really the next two events that punched me right in the heart. When Michigan flat-out did not show up at Michigan State, I watched the second half on mute with a glass of whiskey in my hand. I don't even know what I did during the Penn State game, but I knew how it felt. It felt like Michigan basketball. Shit.
I was in orbit, man, and had not considered the possibility of forced reentry or what I'd turned the ol' heart into: a blast shield.
There are few things better in basketball than a three point shooter going nuts. For all the things Kevin Durant his done, he may be best loved for blowing up Rucker Park with four consecutive threes. I mean:
Dr. J got his nickname on that court, and he can't make Google autosuggest. Localized abatements in the law of probability have pull. Stauskas's early-season emergence was Rucker Park every night.
The fade was inevitable, but every time an announcer mentions Nik Stauskas's still-blazing three-point shooting people who have been watching Michigan play basketball all year only hear that shooting percentage is a couple points lower than it was a couple games ago. Part of the magic that made Michigan seem like an unstoppable train was Stauskas's three point shooting lines. Here are twelve consecutive games: 3/4, 3/4, 1/4, 2/3, 4/7, 4/5, 3/4, 2/5, 4/8, 2/7, 5/8, 5/8.
If he let it go, you expected it to go down. Not in the sense that you were momentarily allowing hope to overwhelm your reason. In the sense that the ball in the air was literally better than 50/50 to go in the hoop despite being launched from a great distance. Stauskas's shooting was a microcosm of the team; it was impossible to do anything other than stare at it, slack-jawed. Stupid grins optional, but recommended.
The wake-up call came at Ohio State. Stauskas didn't score in 23 minutes; he only got off three terrible looks from three. Guy probably hadn't gone a game without scoring since he was six. Towards the end his brain foundered. As the Big Ten season progressed, his fate followed the team's: 1/5 from three in the Indiana loss as Jordan Hull showed him what efficiency was; the same line at the Trohl center; 5 turnovers in the Penn State debacle; 1/8 from the field in the second Wisconsin loss. His decline was a microcosm of the team's.
The slump reached epic proportions in the most important games of the season. Entering the Florida game he was 2/16 from deep in his last four games. Michigan papered over that with liberal helpings of Trey Burke and Mitch McGary, but against Kansas they'd escaped, more plucky underdog surviving one more day than team gunning for a title. I'd burst from my seat to shout something about sending it in when Stauskas rose up in overtime against Kansas, and then sheepishly sat down when it clanged off the rim.
Sunday, Florida left him. I don't know if this was a decision to pick the 2/16 poison instead of Burke and McGary or simply a screwup. Whatever the reason, they left him. Stauskas knocked it down. High fives all around. Stauskas knocked another one down. Eyebrows cocked. What if…
The NBA Jam "on fire" three was next, and then another, and suddenly Stauskas was delivering on everything he'd promised in videos of his dad feeding him over and over again in his backyard, those stories about him breaking Beilein three-point drill records, that highlight package of Stauskas torching Baylor as a high school senior, every splashed three pointer against Eastern and Central. They poured it in from all over, but mostly from Stauskas, who we'd all literally seen dream about this in his backyard. A basketball metronome. Automatic. Open corner three, forget about it.
That was one thing. That was all Michigan needed to separate itself, to finish the course reversal that started in the second half against South Dakota State. The other thing: the last one, the one pictured above, was not wide open. Stauskas evaded a hard closeout, dribbled a step to his left, and launched from behind the backboard. Didn't matter. Stauskas was no longer bound by gravity.
*["Nik Stauskas's dad" is a candidate for the most boring job of the last 18 years]
Seth Greenberg breaks it down:
And official NCAA highlights:
Official site video includes Bacari cheese speech, locker room stuff:
Return to Ann Arbor:
It started with
a whisper defense? Um… yeah. Michigan started this game lighting it up from the field, finishing the first half at a scorching 1.3 points per possession. But the difference between this game and, say, VCU, was the opponent's ability to score. VCU got a lot of points out of the gate; Florida got none.
As Doug Gottlieb mentioned at halftime, this was a gameplan thing. Michigan did indeed put GRIII on Erik Murphy. With visions of various Kansas 4s going 11/14 from the floor, Florida set to attacking him on the block. To say this did not work is an understatement on par with "Sunday was fun." Murphy couldn't get deep in the post and ended up throwing up tough shots while taking contact. His line for the game: 0/11, with nine of those inside the line.
By the time he did launch one of the threes he hits at a 46% clip, there were ten minutes left in the second half. He shot on consecutive possessions; the first was heavily contested and off balance. The second wasn't quite as terrible of a look but GRIII did get a hand in his face. Obviously both missed.
For the game, Florida took all of ten(!) threes. That's 18% of their shots from a team that usually puts up 40%. As someone who tracked the scary-low number of three pointers Wisconsin gave up all year let me tell you: that is downright Wisconsonian. As Bo Ryan watched this game through a film of tears, cutting box at the ready, he had a nagging feeling of familiarity as a team that bombs away went 2/10 from three. "That could have been us," he sniffled, forgetting entirely about Ryan Evans trying to shoot a free throw.
Is this post going to descend into Bo Ryan masochism fiction?
Well, is it?
Hmm. It appears the answer is no. Shame.
More on defense. Michigan's D held Florida to 0.9 points a possession in the first half… and improved(!) in the second half. All but eliminating threes did not come with an excessive cost on the interior, where Florida shot 46%. A lot of those were Boynton or Rosario runners a lot like the shots VCU was clanging; those are clearly things Michigan has just decided to give up. McGary went from challenging them fruitlessly and opening up opportunities for second chance shots to sticking to his man.
Extra possession watch. Rebounding numbers were essentially identical—both teams had 9 OREBs, Florida had one extra DREB. Michigan won turnovers by 4. So I'm a bit baffled as to where Michigan's seven extra shots came from. Both teams had 46 2PA; Michigan had 9 extra 3PA to Florida's 4 extra FTA. More of Florida's free throws could have come in and-one situations, but that doesn't make up for what looks like a seven-shot difference, does it?
The Burke. Burke's trademark steal came off at the end of the first half, giving Michigan two points that seemed worth a lot more as Florida made their push towards a single-digit deficit. I'm not sure about you, but I almost expected that. Burke has a pirate's instinct for the moment, and with Michigan nowhere near the bonus it was a free shot at two. With Florida holding for the last shot, a missed steal that Florida presses gives Michigan an extra possession.
I don't really get to talk much game theory about basketball, but that's a situation in which Burke's skill combines with his intelligence to make that a majorly +EV move.
Mitch: cooled off, sort of. McGary's been on the kind of streak where you can announce some statline of his to a room and get gales of laughter back. I read a tweet that ended up in my timeline stating that McGary had eight points and six rebounds at the under 12 timeout in the first half, and the room went LOL.
McGary didn't continue that torrid pace and fell short of his third consecutive double-double. Still: 11 points on 9 shot equivalents, 9 rebounds, just one turnover, two blocks, and five(!) steals. I don't think I've ever seen a big who's better at coming from behind a post feed for a steal. He doesn't just knock it away and home, he knocks it away, goes and gets it, and then sometimes chucks an audacious over-the-head outlet pass that demands a Wes Unseld reference.
Everyone's searching for their McGary comparable, so here's mine: Brian Cardinal. Cardinal was a quality three point shooter (god, imagine that skill added to McGary's repertoire), but in terms of being a super-active big who generates possessions and has a floor-burn collection, I like it.
Morgan and Horford. Those guys got 14 minutes as McGary got in a bit of foul trouble, and produced. Horford was 3/3 from the floor; combined they acquired nine rebounds, three on offense, and had a 1:1 A:TO ratio. Once Murphy proved he couldn't exploit Robinson on the interior, Michigan didn't need to go two-post (though they did run it out for a minute or two in the first half); those guys got production in when they were called on.
Good to see Morgan getting enough time to contribute. It would be beyond brutal for him if he'd been limited to the minute he got in the first two games of the tournament.
Spike. Albrecht is on a minutes streak: 15 against VCU, 11 against Kansas, 14 here. This was his best outing, obviously. It struck me as Florida tried to pressure him just how impossible it is to get the ball off of the guy. Even Burke will occasionally get his pocket picked by Craft and the like; Albrecht is so low to the ground and capable of that instant spin, so pressing him is futile. With Florida desperate and pressing Spike came in to take the ball up, easily beat the press, and then handed off to Burke. That conserved Burke's energy for the final stretch.
Three steals, two of which led to layups, and a three he knocked down are bonuses. He's doesn't seem enough of a threat inside the line to hold off Walton next year but who cares about that? Right now he's Michigan's main guy off the bench. He's now 44% from three on the year, BTW (albeit on just 25 attempts).
I still don't get deploying him against Kansas, which wasn't pressing and was destroying Michigan at the four.
Hardaway. An awful shooting night, but the difference between Hardaway this year and last: he put up five assists.
Beilein talent eye x2. So Albrecht, obviously. His other offer, singular, was Appalachian State. Then there's Casey Prather, who is often cited as an exception to the rule that if Beilein tries to get you, you are good at basketball. After seeing him play are you telling me you wouldn't want to have the guy off the bench in the LeVert role? 6'6" sticky defenders aren't too common. He's got great rebounding numbers for a wing. He can't shoot, but there'd be a role for him on a Final Four team.
The number one thing to fix about college refereeing. The Wisconsin Chest is a foul, but is never called. The Chest occurs when a guy goes up for a shot and his defender scoots his chest up into the lower body of the defender. Guy takes a bump, shot difficulty goes up a lot, principle of verticality is violated. Never gets a call. I've noticed that Michigan is getting better at the Chest in the the last couple games, because I'm now thinking "that's a foul ARGH" when Michigan's on defense. Which, yay for right now and all that, but also I feel dirty.
Gottliebtake. I'm of two minds about Gottlieb. He's obviously annoying. Earlier this year I tweeted something to the effect of "that guy should wear a lucha libre mask and call himself Strongtake." He has one strength of opinion: extra.
But this does allow him to say interesting things and ask interesting questions. There should be someone badgering the committee rep about why Oregon was 12 seed and that guy should be rolling his eyes when the committee rep tells him "well, they were really an 11" as if anyone gets incensed about teams that are one line off of expectations. There should be someone doing college basketball games who won't shut up about how terrible the monitor review process is—there should be dozens, actually. There should be someone willing to bomb Billy Donovan's first half gameplan when it results in Florida going 1/5 from three. He seems to have a mild form of Tourette's—the white guy analyst comment. I'm in favor of weird guys, I guess.
[12:39 PM] Ace: http://www.wdfn.com/pages/shep.html?article=11133369
[12:39 PM] Ace: BEILEIN DANCING ALERT
will it surprise you that Beilein says he's "trying to have more fun"?
IT WAS CRAZY
OU's Greg Kampe on the Syracuse matchup and some other things. What do Michigan fans think? They are generally in favor! Wojo. Daily's Daniel Wasserman. Everett Cook. Meinke on Stauskas. Beard on Albrecht.