Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
1/16/2010 – Michigan 6, Alaska 0 – 13-10, 8-7 CCHA
1/17/2010 – Michigan 3, Alaska 3 (Alaska 1-0 shootout), 13-10-1, 8-7-0-1 CCHA
Hockey doesn't have grand narrative arc of a 12-game football season so usually I'm at a loss when trying to come up with a column-type substance. Instead, this is mostly items.
With about five minutes left in Saturday's third period I was stewing. After two periods of near-total domination interspersed with a terrible turnover from Chad Langlais, a terrible penalty from Tristin Llewellyn, and the goals that resulted from them, Michigan trailed 3-2 but looked like they'd come storming back in the third. Instead, Alaska kept them penned in their own end with help from a series of dumb or questionable penalties. Michigan had one scoring chance.
It was the exact same script they'd followed all year: own territorially, fail to generate goals off that dominance, make enough undisciplined plays to get behind. It was the same script they'd kicked the year off with in a 2-0 loss against the Nanooks in which they outshot the opponent by more than two to one. It threatened to undo the good from the Friday night shellacking. It was very annoying.
Then Langlais dashed into the slot to pick up a loose puck and fired it through the goaltender and outshot Alaska 6-1 in OT—though the Nanooks didn't get credit for a shot that zinged off the inside of the post—and everything seemed okay. Michigan is 3-0-1 after the break and moving towards the NCAA bubble. They're showing some fight, at least, and it seems plausible that they do something this weekend against tourney-bound Ferris.
The shootout doesn't really matter. It matters a little for CCHA standings but in the eyes of the NCAA it's a tie. For the PWR, Michigan picked up a three-point weekend against a pretty good opponent.
As far as the CCHA goes, Michigan is now within striking distance of that fourth place spot that gets the last first-round bye. They're tied for sixth with Notre Dame, four back of fifth place Alaska, and five back of fourth place Lake State, but they've got two games in hand on all those teams. If you believe in goal differential, Michigan should be able to distance themselves from those two teams over the final stretch: Michigan is +11 in conference while Alaska is –4 and Lake State is +1.
Bork! You know a player has developed into a star when your reaction to his line hitting the ice is "oh thank God," and Carl Hagelin has officially reached this level with me. I've been touting him for a while now but never had that visceral relief until this weekend. He's like a version of Jed Ortmeyer with little rockets in his skates.
Depending on what happens the rest of this season and next, he'll challenge Ortmeyer for champion of my personal Michigan hockey Valhalla. I fully approve of some intrepid students deploying a Swedish flag big enough to use on a battleship this weekend:
Speaking of students. Giant Swedish flag plus responsible vuvuzela guys* plus far more newspapers than usual plus general liveliness equals one of—if not the—best student sections I've seen at Yost. They've even added a few things to the rich panoply of things people say at Yost. "Moose, sieve" is a fantastic addition to the selection of "noun, sieve" chants and this is the year the bizarre muppet-esque hooting that goes on when an opponent is trying to break out of its zone on the power play went from fringe weirdness to actual thing. I'm impressed given the crappy year and the crappy football year that preceded it.
HOWEVA, it is extremely bad form to give the opponent a "warm up the bus/sled/sorority" chant on Friday. One, it doesn't make any sense since they're not going anywhere. Two, it is jinxtastic. Also, a request: someone needs to have their cell phone ring be an incredibly loud plain ringtone as if from a, you know, landline, and they need to have their buddies call four or five times a game so the "Hey, [goalie], it's your mom" cheer can continue.
That is all. Carry on with all other things.
*(Another friend suggested everyone get them because they were "awesome" and I was all "with great power to annoy comes great responsibility." The current amount of crazy plastic horn noise is excellent; more would probably be a disaster.)
So to belabor a point. I don't want to be a creepy mean guy about a kid playing hockey but I do think this sequence was sort of amazing: someone with a 4 as the second number on their jersey runs in for a check on an Alaska player and gets an extremely dubious elbowing call. I turn to my friend and say "I give Llewellyn a lot of crap but that was a terrible call," and then it turns out the guy heading to the box is Brian Lebler. Seven seconds—seven seconds!—later, Llewellyn blatantly grabs a guy to prevent him from getting to a Michigan forward attempting to clear the puck and Michigan goes down two guys for almost the full two. Alaska scores twice. Argh.
Elsewhere in guys who I think had bad weekends: Langlais did score the game-tying goal Saturday but before that he was having a really rough weekend. Alaska's first goal on Saturday was the direct result of a Langlais turnover and he made a series of other mistakes, none of which remain so clear in my mind, before the great redemption.
Lebler, meanwhile, had a really weird weekend. On Saturday he scored on two absolute lasers Brett Hull would have been proud of and zinged a potential hat trick off the post. I've never seen Lebler do anything of the sort before. Then on Saturday he picked up four minors, one of them the aforementioned weak elbowing call but the others were dumb stuff that you have to call.
Good things. Lee Moffie has established himself as an up-and-comer. He's not very physical but is steady, doesn't make a lot of mistakes—though he did fall down and create a two-on-one—and has an excellent shot. It's not heavy but it's seriously accurate; when he dove in from the point to pick up a great Hagelin centering pass it went top shelf, no mistake.
Lindsay Sparks, meanwhile, has gone from healthy scratch to third (second?) liner and kept up his hot recent play with a sweet powerplay goal on which he walked out of the corner and slid it five-hole. Sparks is sixth on the team in PPG and has as many points as Kevin Lynch and one more than AJ Treais despite the latter two having played twice as many games.
Michigan is moving on up. The last two weekends have had a huge positive effect on Michigan's numbers. They're currently 19th in RPI. Two weeks ago they were 29th, not even a Team Under Consideration (TUC). Caveat: it's a lot easier to move from mediocre to pretty decent than to move from pretty decent to tourney bubble. When you're 29th in RPI, the teams around you will go about .500. When you're 19th, they'll be doing better than that.
Even so, that's a big leap in just two weekends; if Michigan continues playing well they have time to break into the top 14 in PWR. Right now Michigan is 19th, exactly what their RPI rank is. Despite Michigan's ugly overall record, their peripherals aren't that terrible. They're 6-6-1 against other TUCs, though that's shaky since they've played three of the last six teams in and are 3-1-1 against them.
Root for Alaska and Minnesota the rest of the way out (not that it's a revelation that you'd like Michigan's nonconference opponents to play well). The other team on the TUC bubble is Notre Dame. Michigan split with them earlier in the year and plays them again the final weekend of the regular season; the desirability of the Irish as a TUC is yet to be determined.
Demon bear. Mandatory. We're using this one from now on because the Demon Bear superfluously blows up Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Michigan State before annihilating the planet.
Michigan 69 Indiana 45. Michigan 9-7 (3-2 Big Ten)
The game was ugly. The teams combined for more turnovers (21) than made field goals in the first half, and Michigan struggled to a 6-point lead. "Classic Big Ten Basketball" is Musbergian one way to describe it, but "One Ugly Game" is at least as accurate. Manny Harris had only 4 points at the half, and hadn't made a single field goal.
After the half, things could have continued on that trajectory, Michigan could have come away with a win, and everybody would have been satisfied but annoyed that they sat through the game. Zack Novak had another idea, though. He gave a speech before the second half began, urging the team to keep their foot on the gas, and asking whether they wanted this game to end up like the Penn State win, or the choke job against Northwestern.
At the beginning of the first half, nothing changed except the Wolverines weren't turning it over quite as much. Manny Harris was unceremoniously benched after another lazy play, and it looked like the Hoosiers had an opening. Matt Vogrich made yet another surprising tip-in of a Darius Morris miss, and Michigan managed to maintain its 7-point lead.
Then Manny came back… and there was no change. The Hoosiers managed to get within 4 points before Harris had enough. He scored 17 second-half points, Michigan was finally able to turn their solid defense into offense on the other end by not turning it right back over. A series of fast break buckets first closed the door, then locked it.
What could have been a real squeaker, or even another disappointing loss, was suddenly a 24-point win. It was far from perfect. Michigan's going to have to play a lot better in the upcoming stretch to come away with any wins, much less a respectable record at the end of it all. Time to learn, and move on.
- Darius Morris is really turning into a good player. His body still moves faster than his mind sometimes, resulting in a couple unforced (or hardly-forced) turnovers per game, but he's not a liability anymore. By the end of the year, he should be a good Big Ten player, and probably a starter.
- Manny Harris starts the game 0-7 shooting, and finishes 7-9 shooting. 7-16 wouldn't look so bad if the shots were distributed otherwise. He slept through the first half, then turned it on.
- What is this... rebounding... you speak of? The Wolverines doubled up the Hoosiers on IU misses, and more impressively, grabbed 41% of available offensive rebounds.
- The final turnovers look bad, with Michigan amassing 16 for the game. That's actually not too bad though, considering 11 of those came in the ugly first half.
- Speaking of the tale of two halves, when was the last time MIchigan was able to put together 40 solid minutes? I guess the Ohio State game went well, but outside of that it's hard to find one against a legit opponent.
- What a wasted opportunity that Northwestern game was (and I guess in the context of tonight, the first Indiana game as well). If Michigan shows up the whole time, the Big Ten record would be stellar-to-unblemished, and the NCAA tournament would be a possibility instead of a pipe dream.
- Man, Tom Crean is annoying as all hell on the sidelines.
- Stu Douglass has been writing quotes on his shoes that are sent to him by a friend (inspired by Stephen Curry's shoes last year). Darius Morris also decorates the back of his shoes. See pictures of both in the photo gallery.
"That was my team growing up, I guess there's just a little bit more to that game for me personally." Zack Novak on playing the Hoosiers.
"We've had some games this year... We very easily could have won 3 or 4 more if we were just tough like today down the stretch." Novak.
"I feel like the defense was really solid. I think it was a real, traditional old-fashioned Big Ten game." Darius Morris.
"In the first half I was running the offense also, but in the second half when I was running the offense, I was getting a little more aggressive, especially toward the end of the second half, because I felt like plays needed to be made." Manny Harris on his offensive explosion.
"Sometimes we were a little lazy, I feel, on some of our cuts... Luckily though, we ran a little bit and got some pretty easy buckets, especially in the second half." Stu Douglass on the ugly performance.
"Some turnovers they forced, some turnovers they didn't force. Our kids persevered through it, and this was one game on the defensive end, both ends, we bought in 100% of what it takes to win." John Beilein.
"That what I'm so proud for us: If we don't guard, we don't win this game." Beilein.
"Manny Harris is a tremendous example for our team, for so many teams... We don't understand the level of force you have to play with. Manny Harris understands the level of force you have to play with." Tom Crean.
Michigan takes on the #15 UConn Huskies Sunday in Crisler Arena at 1:30PM. As of last night, there were some tickets still available, so snap them up. If you can't make it, catch the game on CBS. After that, a tough three-game stretch in the Big Ten see Michigan travel to Wisconsin and Purdue before hosting Michigan State, all in the span of six days.
Northwestern 68 Michigan 62. Michigan 8-7 (2-2 Big Ten)
At this point in the season, we have a good idea who these Michigan Wolverines are. They'll finish middle of the pack in the Big Ten, lose to most opponents better than them, and just about split with teams at or below their level. In that sense, the Northwestern loss yesterday wasn't surprising. It still hurts though. The team dominated the first 16 minutes of the contest, and a valiant comeback effort fell just short.
The way this game played out, and I'm sure a lot of people noticed this, was a lot like the Penn State game on Thursday with Michigan's role reversed. A big difference, however, is that Michigan continued to fight when the tides turned. Whereas Penn State folded up when the Wolverines took the lead, yesterday Michigan was able to stem the Northwestern momentum and even briefly lead the game in the final minutes.
Turnovers told the story, just like against Penn State. Whereas the Wolverines took good care of the ball in the first half, the Northwestern defense stepped up its pressure after the break, and Michigan's young ballhandlers coughed up the rock too many times. When the rhythm was disrupted on one end of the floor, the players got distracted, allowing Northwestern to take over the game.
- Just came through now, and is unrelated to this game in particular, but John Beilein has extended his contract with Michigan through the 2015-2016 season.
- Despite a couple ill-advised turnovers toward the end, I thought Darius Morris looked as comfortable on the court as he has all year, with 7 assists to his name and a couple 3-balls, one when Michigan absolutely needed it.
- It's hard to say Manny had a tough game when he nearly had a double-double, but he made a couple killer mistakes (the turnover at the end comes to mind), and at the very least didn't play his best game out there.
- Zack Gibson made his requisite boneheaded play (letting a pass slip through his hands under the basket), but didn't get enough time to make of for it with his requisite awesome athletic play. With such a short bench (and as the only backup in the post), he needs to get more than a couple minutes.
- The commentators who always say "you need to pound inside to DeShawn Sims" (Jay Bilas and others) frustrate me, because John Beilein has proven at multiple coaching stops that it's possible for his teams to win without using the low post as a main source of offense. However, when Sims was playing so well at the beginning of the game, I wish they'd continued that when Northwestern started going on a run, to settle the team and prevent the game from getting out of control. Congratulations to Sims for being named the Big Ten Player of the Week, as well.
The Wolverines have just a couple days to recharge for a big Weekend. Indiana visits Crisler Arena on Thursday at 9PM for what has become a must-win game. On Sunday, UConn will stop by to close out the non-conference schedule. This is also a big football recruiting weekend, so they'll be taking in the UConn game.
Michigan 64 Penn State 55, Michigan 8-6 (2-1 Big Ten)
So, uh, What Happened?
I have no idea. I can't afford cable, so I was taking in the game at a local drinking establishment. It was turned off for maybe 5 minutes so we could watch the AWESOME PREGAME for the BCS National Championship game. By the time I convinced the waitress to get the Michigan game turned back on, the margin had gone from 16 points to a more manageable 7. The Wolverines continued to make buckets, and Penn State threw the ball away time and again, resulting in a Michigan victory that actually could have been by a slightly wider margin. I think the difference between halves can be best illustrated by a...
|Stat||Half 1||Half 2|
|Michigan Free Throw%||0.00||83.33|
|Talor Battle Points||9||0|
|Michigan Bench Points||0||0|
So it was a difference of night and day, especially considering that most of the Wolverines' improvement came with less than 12 minutes remaining on the clock. John Beilein's rousing halftime speech (saying absolutely nothing) must have made a huge difference. [Editor's note: this tactic sometimes works in Football Manager.]
Ken Pomeroy was so inspired by this game, that he wrote a blog post about whether it's even possible for a team to win a game without making a 3-pointer (he concludes probably not), since Michigan didn't do so until 11:59 remained in the game. However, it should be noted that it's not like Michigan wasn't trying to make threes, it just so happened that they missed their first 14(!) attempts.
Zack Novak broke the seal with just under 12 minutes to go, Laval Lucas-Perry gave an inspired performance (as he only seems to do on the road), and Michigan drilled 7 of their final 10 attempts to steal the road win. Aside from the inconsistency between halves, there were other causes for concern, of course. As noted above, bench players scored exactly 0 points, though Darius Morris contributed in other ways. There is still a lot of work for this team to do if they want to reach the top half of the conference, despite the 2-game winning streak (the first winning streak of any kind since November).
So What Now?
Michigan fought through one of their worst single halves of the year, and managed to win a game on the road. It remains to be seen whether making it past such adversity will make the team stronger, or scare the crap out of them as they realize how fragile their season truly is. With upcoming home games against Northwestern (Sunday at 2:30 in Crisler) and Northwestern looking more winnable, this season has a chance to make the postseason after all. NIT or Bust, Baby!
Michigan 73, Ohio State 64. Michigan 7-6 (1-1 Big Ten)
Michigan's schizophrenic season took yet another turn tonight as the Wolverines knocked off the #15 Ohio State Buckeyes in Crisler Arena. The Buckeyes' Jon Diebler started the game hot, and it seemed like we were doomed to watch yet another opponent shoot out the lights. However, it was Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims who stole the show. Michigan's big two scored 52 of their team's 73 points, with Manny adding 5 assists and Peedi pulling down 9 boards. Freshman shooting guard Matt Vogrich also led the team in offensive rebounding(!) and had a key block in the paint(!!).
Michigan isn't in any position to look at this as just another win, but perhaps the upset isn't as big as it seems. Despite Michigan's early-season woes and Ohio State's lofty ranking, the Buckeyes were actually an underdog according to Vegas. Michigan's inconsistencies from game to game have obscured how good the Wolverines actually are, and the low points will have to be smoothed out if there's to be any expectation of a postseason visit.
For now, it's nice to be able to bask in the glow of victory for a change, especially when that victory comes over the Buckeyes.
- Man, Crisler was rocking in the second half. That's easily the loudest I've heard it since the Duke game last year. Me likey. The sound system was busted, however.
- LLP was very quiet. I guess it doesn't matter since Manny and DeShawn were basically all the offense the team needed for a win, but to continue winning games, Laval needs to contribute.
- No sign of Jordan Morgan or Blake McLimans. I guess they'll continue on a redshirt track, despite the losses of Eric Puls and Ben Cronin.
- Manny was much more authoritative on his drives today. He was willing to go to his left, which he hasn't done much this year. He also had a thunderous dunk that brought the house down.
- Vogrich moved positions, he's now backing up Manny Harris at the 3 guard spot.
- To slow down Diebler during his hot start, Beilein had Stu Douglass guard him. I wouldn't have thought of Stu as a big defensive stopper, but that just goes to show what I know.
- Maybe Michigan was hesitant to start their New Year Run before the calendar changed...
"It only takes one game to start your momentum rolling." DeShawn Sims.
"It was just an overall good effort by the whole team. I was the recipient of a lot of passes from a lot of people today, and that's pretty much what got us ahead today." DeShawn Sims, on his offensive output.
"I don't know what it is, we're just getting down to the basics a little bit." Stu Douglas, on the team's overall effort.
"I was just trying to be a spark... It's Ohio State, so it's hard not to bring energy in this game... Everybody probably thinks I'm 7-foot if they just look at my stats in this game." Matt Vogrich, on his surprising performance.
"Coach has really been stressing that to me... that defense is gonna win games. Right now, that's what my focus is." Darius Morris.
"It's Michigan-Ohio State. That's one of the reasons you come to Michigan, to play Ohio State." Zack Novak.
"I wish we'd shown some of that patience at Indiana and Kansas." John Beilein, on the team running its offense.
"Both are terrific basketball players... We weren't able to them at the times that we needed to." Ohio State coach Thad Matta, on Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims.
"It's Big Ten play. You've got 9 at home, and you've gotta take care of your home court." Thad Matta.
Kansas 75, Michigan 64. Michigan 5-5 (0-0 Big Ten)
Allow me to bang my head against the wall for a few moments and scream about how this team can't shoot, despite open looks.
Now that my brain is a wet pile of mush on the floor, what just happened?
Michigan played with the #1 team in the country on the road for about 35 minutes. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks built a big first-half lead in the other five minutes. The Wolverines kept chipping away, but could never get to single digits. If being down 11 was a good thing, this team would have won all sorts of awards today. It's not, so they don't. They just lose.
The shooting problems continue. At this point it is clear that shot selection isn't the problem. Maybe some of the guys have lost confidence, maybe there are inconsistencies with the form of their shots, maybe they're not in great shape, but it can't be attributed to bad luck anymore. Somehow these guys actually forgot how to shoot. In the second half, I was ready for Matt Vogrich to get thrown into the fire.
Kansas's scoring was independent of Michigan's defense much of the time, and Michigan's lack of scoring was definitely independent of Kansas's defensive play, so you might as well put in the guy who's most likely to make those open looks.
There's no such thing as a moral victory, but this game could be a positive indicator for future performance. Despite their worst shooting game of the year (in a year filled with poor shooting), they went on the road and didn't let the #1 Jayhawks run them off the court. There were opportunities to let the game get away with them, but a timely defensive play would keep the game manageable. The creepiest chant in college sports didn't get started until there were under 2 minutes in the game.
Jay Bilas, in the face of all available evidence, was claiming Michigan is probably still a tournament team. That's doubtful at this point, but if they can play this well against teams that don't have quite the roster that Kansas does (and nobody in the country has that talented a roster), maybe they can come away with a winning record in the Big Ten and give themselves a chance on Selection Sunday.
- Rough game for Zack Gibson. He wasn't bad the whole time, but he made a couple easily-avoidable errors that really prevented Michigan from completing any sort of comeback.
- Darius Morris... good? Hopefully this is the game that helps him permanently turn the corner.
- All the cliches about Zack Novak are true. Plus he cuts hair.
- Seriously, give Vogrich a little more run. If Darius Morris can play one of his best games of the year against Kansas, you have to give Vogrich a chance to bomb away and keep the Wolverines in the contest.
- I hinted at this above, but the announcers at the end were making statements like "despite playing their worst game of the year, Kansas comes away with a win!" Dude, Michigan gave the game away just as much as Kansas.
- If Michigan shoots their season average (a still-horrible 28.9%) from three, instead of 17.9%, they have approximately 4 more points over the course of the contest, and this is a ballgame into the last minute. If they shoot like they did last year (33.4%), there's a legit shot of winning.
- I don't know how Kenpom's formulas are created, but I wouldn't be surprised if this performance made his season outlook for Michigan a little less grim than 11-19.
- Ugh shooting. [Editor's note: word.]