"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
"Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball." — Jourdan Lewis [Photo: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan's 2014 roster includes six proud graduates of Detroit's Cass Tech High School, including four in the secondary alone and a fifth—Royce Jenkins-Stone, Class of 2012—also on the defensive side of the ball. Remarkably, all six are making a serious push for playing time this fall. At Media Day, I caught up with every former Technician on the team save for Delano Hill, who's recovering from a broken jaw, to discuss their current roles on the team, what it's like to be surrounded by their former high school teammates, and much more.
- The defensive backs, to a man, are excited about the new aggressive playing style, as well as the level of competition at corner.
- Terry Richardson feels physically prepared to be out there after adding "a quick 12 to 15 pounds" this offseason.
- Delonte Hollowell was wearing a small cast on his left hand due to an injury suffered from "practicing hard, you know?" He thinks it's just a sprain.
- Royce Jenkins-Stone says Greg Mattison "critiques the little things" more with his new charges at linebacker, and the group is better for it.
- David Dawson, man of mystery, does not want you to know what position he's playing.
- There's competition everywhere.
- Every single one lit up when talking about playing with a big group of other guys from Cass Tech—they clearly share a strong bond with their former and present teammates.
You made a big move in the spring. Heading into the fall, Coach Hoke talked about how you're one of the top three corners. How do you feel you've progressed since last year and what are your expectations for this season in terms of your performance?
Just be aggressive. Just play good. Just keep playing how I'm doing. Just keep the intensity up though the season, pretty much.
There's been a big emphasis on aggressiveness from the cornerbacks. How do you feel that fits in with your style of play, and what's been the biggest change since last year?
It's definitely a big emphasis on being physical, that's how all of us really like to play. Just doing that, just with how we like to play, it's really suiting us. We're actually better as a whole unit.
Because of how aggressive you guys are playing, has the level of competition been raised between the cornerbacks and the receivers right now?
It's just everybody. All of us just love to compete, and it's not even like—the competition, we don't see it [that way], we just see it as "we're gonna just lock this receiver up every chance we get."
There's a bunch of Cass Tech guys on the team, and a lot of them are competing for time. What's it like to be surrounded by your high school teammates at Michigan?
It's amazing. It's amazing just knowing that you've got somebody who has your back through anything. It's really amazing. It brings everybody together, even the ones that didn't go to Cass Tech, it actually helps us all be together and help us be tight as a unit.
[Note: This is where I wrapped up my Q&A; I caught the audio of a couple questions for Lewis from The Wolverine's Chris Balas.]
How much more confident are you from year one to year two?
Confident? I was about the same, but being consistent and comfortable is a key, really. Right now that's all I'm really worried about, just being consistent and being comfortable in my technique in everything we do.
How much more comfortable are you knowing what you know now compared to what you knew a year ago?
It was way faster last year. Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball.
[Hit THE JUMP for interviews with Terry Richardson, DELONTE HOLLOWELL, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and David Dawson.]
Joe Bolden hype comes in both unapproved and approved forms.
We had the fortune to get a practice report from a deeply anonymous person who wormed their way Inside The Fort, and here is what he or she or it reported, in my words:
Jabrill Peppers is mostly a nickel back but they are giving him a few experimental snaps at safety. While it seems like they are going to start him out there, as the season develops he may get more playing time when Michigan has four DBs on the field by taking that SS spot. Delano Hill's absence complicates things. He was leading at SS before he injured his jaw.
The alarming O-Line lineup tweeted out was at least temporarily a real thing. FWIW, that was Cole-Magnuson-Miller-Dawson/Glasgow-Braden. Kalis was not repping much with the first team. The slash-Dawson in that line above should be taken with a grain of salt—he looked another year or two away in one-on-ones.
That unit was not looking great even by early fall practice standards, so maybe they switch it up. Hoke told the assembled horde at Media Day that they hoped to settle on a top five by next week. They're still in experiment mode.
Jeremy Clark is your leader at SS with Hill sidelined. Brandon Watson is apparently #3 there until Hill gets back. Thomas did not get a mention.
Sigh… Joe Bolden seems to be for real. This is not bad for Michigan in general. It is bad for me because if Bolden starts the opener over a healthy Desmond Morgan I eat a lemon on the internet. But he's continued to get more time than Morgan. Jenkins-Stone is also getting a lot of time, but for whatever reason Ross was held out of this practice so that may be more about his absence than anything else.
Jourdan Lewis may be your best corner. He will push Taylor heavily; they're already splitting reps down the middle and Lewis is outperforming not only him but Countess.
Norfleet looked "f---ing great" and is the #1 slot. No, the insider is not me. I swear. Canteen is practicing both inside and out as they try to figure out their best configuration.
DeVeon Smith is the #1 back. Green and Hayes seemed running neck and neck for #2, with Drake Johnson the last serious competitor behind them. Hoke announced at media day that Johnson was 1b to Smith's 1a, so maybe they're seeing subtler things. Or Green is still on the motivation train.
While Ty Isaac looked pretty good, they're mostly running him with/against scrubs. That seems like an indicator they don't expect to get a waiver for him.
There is some zone read. FWIW. They ran zone read drills under Borges, too.
The defense is "crazy aggressive." They are serious about it, deploying a ton of press—just like the spring game—and using Peppers as a freelance sower of destruction on blitzes. Linemen are shifting frequently, giving the offensive line issues with pickups.
The defensive line should have good depth. Hurst and Wormley were both mentioned as seeming like starter-quality players, and the just-returned Pipkins was praised for his agility. He dominated one-on-one sessions and made some spin moves that seemed "impossible" for a guy his size. OL caveats apply.
Expect a lot of screens. Screens are the way you deal with a wobbly OL.
On my very first scouting assignment for MGoBlog, I witnessed the future—and, of course, was totally oblivious to this fact. As Farmington Hills Harrison blew out eventual state champs Cass Tech with surprising ease to open the 2011 season, I watched from my press box perch at Eastern Michigan while Eric snapped pictures from the sideline.
Devin Funchess ambled out wide, as he'd done for much of the evening. He faced off against Jourdan Lewis, at that time the #2 corner on Cass Tech behind future Wolverine Terry Richardson, who drew the seemingly tougher assignment against the focal point of the Harrison offense, future Michigan State receiver Aaron Burbridge. Lewis was a relative unknown, holding a lone offer from Toledo. Eric took the photo that graces the top of this post.
It's an absurd picture. There's Funchess, looking like a coat rack in shoulder pads, assembling his limbs into something approximating a wide receiver's stance. He dwarfs Lewis, who's got the same deer-legged awkwardness while wearing a jersey top that appears at least two sizes too large.
You'd be excused if you thought neither of these guys would make an impact at Michigan, just based on this photo. Funchess was too gangly for a tight end prospect. Lewis, while bigger than Richardson, still fit the mold of pint-sized Cass Tech corner, which was already becoming a dubious distinction.
Once each player came out of their pigeon-toed stances, however, a bright future was apparent. Funchess ran with an effortless glide, and in limited opportunities to make an impact, he did so in a way that foreshadowed a future at Not Tight End:
Funchess displayed great hands and concentration, making his first reception on a tipped pass, and he finished with three receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown by my count (I'm pretty sure the Detroit News recap omits his first catch). Unfortunately for those who missed the game, I was tweeting when Funchess recorded his touchdown catch, so you'll have to believe me when I say he ran a great route up the seam, plucked the ball out of the air, and showed nice speed getting into the end zone on the 31-yard scoring play. His other catch also came when he found a hole in the middle of the defense – from limited viewing, I like what I see in his route-running, hands, and athleticism.
My ability to process this information—and maintain a healthy skepticism of high school weight listings—exposed my inexperience:
On a side note, for those of you who think that Michigan should try to convert Funchess into a wide receiver, I don't see that happening – he already weighs around 215 pounds, and looks like he could easily add another 20-30 before he gets to Ann Arbor.
Funchess came to Michigan listed at 225 pounds in 2012, and that was a lie. He played tight end for the next season-and-a-half. He did so even though no Michigan coach in the history of Michigan coaches would've played him there if given a choice; still paper-thin and lacking refined technique, his blocking was bad enough that he called himself a "pretty boy" heading into his sophomore season.
By that time, though, he'd already shown what he'd become over the second half of his sophomore season. After Michigan's 2012 blowout of Illinois, Brian described the play that inspired the creation of one of the first two MGoGIFs to exist—before I even knew how to watermark them—as such:
My God, It's Made Of Funchess note of the week. From my vantage point in the stadium, I thought the play-action rollout that eventually turned into the Funchess touchdown had been defeated by coverage. I thought that Denard saw this too and was chunking the ball out of the endzone, which I was pleased with—WOO NO INTERCEPTION—as I saw the ball soar into the stands… at least the dance team… well past Devin Funchess's outstretched… oh.
Wow. Is that legal? Should I clap now? Is touchdown? Is touchdown. Clap. Smile.
We clapped. We smiled. We started listing Funchess as a "FLEX" before giving in entirely to the proper designation: Wide Receiver Devin Funchess. Now he's Top Returning Receiver In The Big Ten Devin Funchess. He runs fly routes past cornerbacks and over the top of safety help. Single cover him and the cornerback might as well not exist. Attempts to tackle him at the knees are not recommended.
Michigan has their tight end of the future, but it's not Funchess, it's Jake Butt. More tight end help is on the way. Meanwhile, the tight end of future past is now the next great Michigan wideout of the present, not to mention a potential first-round NFL draft pick. We saw this coming, but we didn't see this coming.
As for the high school junior who faced off against Funchess on that August evening in 2011, Jourdan Lewis picked up his coveted Michigan offer the following February, and a scant couple weeks later committed along with Cass Tech teammate David Dawson during that unforgettable eight-commit weekend. He's set to challenge for a starting cornerback spot in a loaded secondary this fall after showing flashes of serious potential as a freshman last season. On that loaded Cass Tech defense, which featured current U-M LB Royce Jenkins-Stone in addition to Richardson, he looked the best of them all:
Lewis, Cass Tech's other corner/wideout/returner, was their best player on the field on Saturday, in my opinion. The junior is listed by Rivals at 5'11", 170, and his size allows him to be much more physical – he had a couple big hits on both receivers and ballcarriers and was generally solid in his tackling, and he certainly wasn't afraid to step up and hit somebody. Lewis is not quite as fast or quick as Richardson, but he still has very good speed and agility and was able to show that off in all three phases of the game. Lewis had the best play of the night for Cass Tech's defense, coming up with a diving interception on their own goal line. He already has an offer from Toledo, and I expect he'll get offers from much more prominent programs – including Michigan – in the near future. He has the look of a BCS-level athlete and I like his potential as a bigger cornerback who can make plays against the pass or the run.
"Bigger cornerback," in this case, was relative to Richardson. That's my story, at least, and I'm sticking to it.
Lewis showed off that physicality this spring, when he looked like the cornerback best suited to Michigan's new emphasis on press coverage. Once again, he lined up often against Funchess. Once again, he more than held his own.
Funchess is already a star. Lewis looks like he's on his way. I wish I could say I knew this would happen, but there's Eric's picture, resplendent in its awkwardness, reminding me that potential is a hell of a thing to project.
Dymonte Thomas (L) and Jourdan Lewis (R) both committed before receiving coveted offers.
It's been a long time since I did one of these, and after the Shaun Crawford decommitment the topic of discussion is Michigan's very simple policy: if a commit takes visits, the coaches will continue recruiting for that spot, and while they'll continue recruiting the prospect taking visits they'll no longer consider him a commit.
At this point, the policy itself is clear to the point that its particulars aren't up for debate. Its merits, on the other hand, have been questioned. Here's a great question that helps show why it works:
Two part question:
Have there been any Michigan signees that come to mind who benefited the most from the policy being in place? A guy who was locked in early before he blew up regionally or nationally and it kept him in Michigan’s camp maybe? Or a guy, maybe like Peppers, who by committing and not looking around was solely focused on his senior year and helping the recruiting effort.
And on the flip side can you think of a couple of specific names (not including Dawson and the guys who have decommitted this year) who were probably scared away by it and may otherwise have ended up in a Michigan class had it not been for the coach staffs visit rules?
Jabrill Peppers is a nice example to start with, as he considered taking visits a couple months before Signing Day, then reaffirmed his pledge after taking his official visit to Michigan and talking with both the coaches and his family. Who knows what would've happened if Brady Hoke had allowed him to remain committed and visit, say, Alabama? At best, it would've bothered a lot of the other commits. At worst, Peppers would've ended up in Crimson.
Two other current U-M defensive backs come to mind when answering the first part of the question. Dymonte Thomas committed nearly a year-and-a-half before signing his LOI; at the time, the Alliance, Ohio product didn't hold an Ohio State offer, which befuddled Buckeye recruitniks. Even though Thomas' cousin, Bri'onte Dunn, committed to OSU in the interim, when Urban Meyer extended an offer two months later Thomas laughed it off on Twitter. He'd committed, end of story, and he knew what a commitment to Michigan entailed—no trips to check out Columbus and see if he'd want to play with his cousin, something they'd discussed before their respective commitments.
There's also Jourdan Lewis, who eventually became an Army All-American but held this list of offers when he pledged during The Greatest Mid-February Weekend In The History Of Mid-February Weekends: Michigan and Toledo. That's it. Other schools tried to enter the fray, but Lewis remained firm in his pledge—again, in part because he knew the consequences if he started looking around. All he had to do was ask his teammate, David Dawson, the shining example of how the Damien Harris situation can still work out in Michigan's favor.
As for the flip side, there have been multiple prospects in recent years who very nearly committed to U-M while on visits, and in retrospect it's clear the policy helped avoid an eventual decommitment. Malik McDowell immediately comes to mind, as does Artavis Scott. If McDowell had committed, his journey to East Lansing—and I believe he'd have ended up there regardless—would've had even more twists and turns. Same goes for Scott, who took to Clemson's overtures so quickly it's difficult to imagine a Michigan pledge would've stuck.
The best example of the policy avoiding a major issue, however, is a prospect who did at one point commit to U-M: 2014 OT Denzel Ward. His recruitment requires bullet points:
- Committed to Michigan in October 2012, a week after receiving the U-M offer, his best to date. By the first week of January, he'd also hold offers from Arizona State, Florida, and Ohio State.
- Took an unofficial visit to Florida in January 2013 without informing the coaches; at this time, he also transferred high schools from the Chicago area to the IMG Academy in Florida, which also came as a surprise to Michigan's staff.
- Shortly thereafter, Michigan told Ward he was no longer a commit, and due to the lack of communication with the coaches they didn't plan to pursue him again.
- Ward named Florida as his leader in March. He picked up an Oklahoma offer around that time.
- Despite an impressive offer sheet, Ward committed to Purdue in June.
- Three days after an official visit to USF, Ward decommitted from Purdue in December.
- Less than a week after taking his final official visit to Syracuse, Ward committed to the Orange and signed his LOI.
When Michigan recognized Ward was a serious flight risk, they broke things off, and eventually replaced him in the class with a higher-rated, UA All-American tackle in Juwann Bushell-Beatty. If I had to guess whether JBB lasts longer at Michigan or Ward at Syracuse... well, I bet you can guess my answer.
This was going to be a full mailbag, but I got pretty wordy on this one, so I'll answer the rest of the questions in a separate post tomorrow.
The spring game-type-substance maintained its downward importance trajectory, but as it's the last glimpse of one of the big three sports we'll have until fall we'll talk about it all the same. This year's edition further expanded the punting-drills-and-standing-around section of the practice, so observations are necessarily light on the ground.
It's bad when Doug Karsch can't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
This video is in Michigan's traditional zoom-o-vision, so you can't actually tell what Lewis did to get in the position he's in for the first interception.
The tone. Last year's "I like this team" has been replaced.
“We’re doing a lot of good things, but we’re not near good enough as a team to win games in the fourth quarter, which we didn’t do (last season), and play on the road,” said Hoke, entering his fourth season. “We’re a long way from being any good."
That reflects the reality of the program.
Depth chart grain of salt reminder. Spring is a season for motivational devices and experiments and therefore places on the depth chart should be regarded as vague indicators more than anything else. Case in point: Graham Glasgow was your second-team right tackle.
Lewis is in your grill yo [Bryan Fuller]
Very aggressive /teddyKGB. Every offseason for a team without an elite defense features coaches promising increased aggression, whereupon most of them quietly drop that promise when the season rolls around and it turns out that for Defense X being super aggressive is a good way to give up quick touchdowns. The cycle repeats the next offseason.
Michigan is promising aggression, and Mattison is putting his cornerbacks where his mouth is. Lewis:
“It’s huge, just getting hands on guys and trying to intimidate them," Lewis said. "That’s our key point right there -- being physical. That’s what (defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison is always talking about, being a physical defense.”
They spent most of the scrimmage session in the grills of Michigan wide receivers, playing MSU-style bump and clutch and grab and run. Word from the coaching clinic is that Michigan is adjusting to the way the game has been called of late. Lewis again:
“He said ‘be physical’,” Lewis said. “But he doesn’t care if it’s great defense and we get a penalty.”
This was highly effective when not drawing two flags on Lewis—the second a dubious one—or that one time the offense got Freddy Canteen lost on a deep corner route. Everything else was contested, and when the ball got to the receiver the corners were making a play on it.
Lewis looked terrific after a spring in which inside practice buzz has heralded him as a major comer; hell, he looked terrific most of last year except for the bit where the opposing quarterback regularly put the ball in the six-inch window perfect coverage provides. In this game he had two interceptions and two flags along with other instances where his presence forced drops or tough catches. The first interception came on the first play of the scrimmage (0:45 above).
The video doesn't do it justice since it kind of looks like Lewis is coming over from a zone. That was pure press man coverage on which he did the one thing the gypsy promised him he'd never do: make a play on the ball after achieving his position.
Is he supplanting? I don't know, man. Usually two returning starters who had the number of excellent interceptions Taylor and Countess did have impregnable positions on the depth chart. This situation is not usual, though, as those guys didn't have impregnable positions even as they were doing that—Taylor was yanked from the starting lineup briefly, even. And the last impression Michigan's coaches have is both guys getting smoked by Tyler Lockett, an impression that Countess might have reinforced when Canteen beat him over the top Manningham-style. (Gardner left the throw short and Countess recovered.)
At the very least the competition here is a real one, unlike, say, quarterback. And corner is a position at which a lot of players will see the field. Lewis has at least claimed a spot in Michigan's nickel package, which is half your snaps these days. Even when not in nickel, Michigan rotated last year and they'll rotate this year. It's likely that Lewis gets as many snaps as the starters whether he is one on paper or not, and then you've got Stribling and Peppers. Delonte Hollowell is hanging around, delivering the occasional hard shot on the unsuspecting.
If the spring game indicates one thing, it's that cornerback is better-stocked than it's been in a long-time. Michigan doesn't have a Woodson (at least until fall, anyway), but I can say without hesitation that I'm more comfortable with Michigan's fifth corner than I usually am with their third. Remember Football Armageddon, when Michigan decided covering a first-round NFL draft pick with Chris Graham was their best option? Yeah. Not so much this year.
Wilson got over the top on a late throw [Bryan Fuller]
Aaaand safety. Much less clarity there, and very little to go on from the game-type section. Michigan spent much of the day rolling whoever wasn't Jarrod Wilson to the line of scrimmage to further their aggression goals, whereupon he would cover a fullback or something or watch as a run play did not get to him.
Wilson did have one nice PBU on a looping ball over the top. The ball was late thanks to some pressure that forced Gardner to roll around in the pocket, but that's the kind of ball a safety can make a play on and the play was made.
As far as depth chart stuff goes there was zero clarity. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Delano Hill was slightly preferred. And then I would say "but…" and you would shoot me. Let's not do this gun to the head thing when talking about Michigan's safeties.
The Jake Ryan experiment. First off, the admittedly not-particularly-meaningful spring depth chart gives me the willies. Ryan at MLB, Morgan second-string behind him, Bolden starting, Ross running on the second team at new tinySAM. I am full of the willies.
It's hard to tell much about linebackers in spring, harder yet when the offensive line they're up against is barely releasing to the second level*. On plays where I watched Jake Ryan he looked okay. He's kind of a long, upright guy, so when blockers get into him he tends to let them under him. On the edge he would just juke a guy and explode past him; in the middle you have to take the block on because picking the wrong side of the guy means you just blew your run fit.
I'm not sure where he fits in an over defense, though, so if you're going to make a shift he has to go somewhere.
Meanwhile, Joe Bolden's ample playing time has been mysterious to me. Linebacker remains the hardest position for me to have a Serious Opinion about because there's just so much that goes into it, but the things that Bolden seemed to be screwing up were really obvious things like not being anywhere near your pass drop. Meanwhile when it comes to hitting people in the face and making them stop going forward there is no comparison between Bolden, who has been a drag-you-down tackler to date, and Desmond Morgan, who thumps you and then you stop moving. Michigan's head coach says "toughness" every other word, and Morgan is much closer to that on the field than Bolden.
As a result I've promised to eat a lemon on the internet if Bolden starts the opener over Morgan. The rules: Morgan has to be healthy, Bolden has to start, and Morgan cannot start.
*[Michigan had a great deal of uninspiring runs of 1-3 yards but few TFLs except that one time they put Henry in against the third team OL. This was in large part because the offensive line was doing its damndest to not repeat the mistakes of last year. Instead of popping off opposing DL immediately, they were maintaining doubles longer than you really should. This made life at LB relatively easy and thus many plays where a tailback crosses the line of scrimmage and encounters a pile of men.]
Poggi SDE, Hurst 3-tech, Henry nose on a second or third unit
Line ups and downs. Here the limitations of spring practice overwhelm. Michigan's first-team offensive line read Cole-Bosch-Miller-Kalis-Braden; the second team featured a left tackle with an enormous cast on his hand. Grain of salt, grain of salt, grain of salt.
Anyway, Michigan had a few guys that looked impressive: Bryan Mone entered the backfield with regularity and Maurice Hurst Jr flashed the first step that was the bulk of his recruiting profile. That they've pushed Henry down the depth chart is an excellent sign even if that particular arrangement is clearly motivational after Henry established himself a legit Big Ten player a year ago. Brennen Beyer displayed an excellent ability to discard… uh… true freshman Mason Cole on a number of snaps. Beyer has always been an active hands guy; the question with him is his ability to hold up against 330 pound trucks. A matchup with Cole is not going to answer that.
Michigan got push up the middle of the pocket for large chunks of the scrimmages and while they weren't penetrating on run plays with regularity, see the aside above. When Michigan's options were limited in the half-line drills, they ended up in the backfield more often than not. It seemed like 80% of those runs cut back behind the center, which is a win for the DL in that drill.
As for guys who had bad snaps we will extrapolate much more from than is reasonable: at 2:55 in the video above Derrick Green gets one of Michigan's better runs on the day by bouncing outside; that is there because Glasgow locked up with and drove Henry Poggi well off the ball. Tom Strobel got easily handled on a successful Hayes power play at 2:25; a linebacker wearing a number in the 40s also picked the wrong hole. Also… does anyone know where Chris Wormley was? I don't recall seeing him; I googled to see if anyone had mentioned anything was up with him and came up empty, so I assume he was there but rather anonymous.
I have to punt on other defensive end observations, as I was focusing on the linebackers and secondary for much of the day.
- They're trying to make good on the promise to be aggressive.
- The cornerback depth is terrific and the top end should be quite good.
- Michigan has a solid young core at DT; DE is more uncertain.
- Linebackers… ask again later.
anecdotal comparison demonstrates that the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, was considerably better than the best baseball player ever, a chimpanzee named Carl who led the 1883-1884 Erie Mudjacks with a .546 batting average.
Question about randomness in sports that evolved into a very long answer with rants about how to fix hockey.
Hey MGoBlog team,
I'm of the opinion that individual games in any sport are decided by a combination of four things: player athleticism, player skill, player/coaching strategy, and chance. If you want you could also pull refereeing out of the chance bucket to make a fifth. Do you think this is a valid and relatively complete model and if not how would you change it? A related question is which of the five major sports (football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey) relies most on chance to decide the outcome of a single game? How does that affect the fan experience?
My answer is basketball and hockey as the most reliant on chance, which I think negatively impacts my ability to get too caught up in the outcome of those games. That could be because I'm relatively ignorant of the strategy and skill elements in those games though, which is why I seek your most esteemed opinions.
Those four things cover just about everything, though athleticism and skill are sometimes difficult to parse out from each other.
As far as randomnesss goes, basketball in fact seems like the sport least impacted by chance, especially at the NBA level. The best NBA teams win something like 80% of their games, and teams that good generally plow through four rounds of playoffs without issue. A whopping 14 of the 20* teams with the best regular season win percentage in NBA history went on to win the championship. Two that didn't (the 96-97 Utah Jazz and 1995-96 Seattle Supersonics) lost in the finals to teams ahead of them on the list.
Meanwhile, no baseball team in a much longer history has touched an 80% win rate and only five of the 14 teams that Wikipedia references made it through much shorter playoff structures. Also, eight of them played before WWI. Baseball is the king of randomness. They've done studies and everything.
And when you think about it, it makes sense. Basketball is structured as 60-90 random trials worth 0-3 points for each team. That's a lot of trials. Baseball has nine. Football has 10-12, though that's a bit different because those trials are a lot less independent of previous ones. Hockey defies this sort of categorization. But just think about the MAXIMUM THUNDERBOLT LEVEL possible in any particular sport as a proxy for randomness:
- A man makes a three pointer and is fouled for four points out of 100.
- A goal is scored!
- A grand slam!!
- 105 YARD INTERCEPTION RETURN TOUCHDOWN!!!
Despite the high thunderbolt rating of the top football plays, the sport as a whole is less random than hockey and baseball, primarily because each play has an impact on the one that follows it in a way that doesn't happen in sports with less memory. You can load the bases in baseball and come away with nothing; ripping off a 30-yard run in football is always worth something.
Soccer also defies this analysis, as goals rank high on the thunderbolt scale but soccer Cinderellas are exceedingly rare. When Cypriot club APOEL made the final 16 of the Champions League a couple years back there was a veritable tizzy; they were immediately bashed out by Real Madrid 8-2.
And that makes sense, too. The structure of the game is such that good teams always have the ball and bad teams give up on the idea of competing on equal footing, instead preferring to pack everyone in front of their goal in hopes of a tie or a fluke goal. Outmatched teams regularly get outshot 10-1, compared to 2-1 in hockey. Hell, when Barca comes to town even teams backed by Russian plutocrats have a tendency to park the bus and hope for fortune.
Your randomness rankings, then, from least to most random:
It's a wonder they bother to play baseball instead of just guessing what color the ump is thinking about.
College basketball is quite a bit more random than the NBA, primarily because the game is shorter, possessions longer, and three pointers more readily available. Michigan just lost a 55 possession game in which the opponent went 8 of 13 from three primarily because one guy was unconscious. If that was an NBA game it would be the middle of the third quarter and they would have a chance to right the ship.
But overall, college basketball still spits out the "right" team enough that it's satisfying to me. The playoff structure very rarely sees top teams not reach the Sweet 16 and even more rarely puts a true interloper into the Final Four. Meanwhile, the single elimination nature of it makes any team vulnerable. March Madness straddles the line between unsatisfyingly random (baseball) and boringly rote (the NBA) almost perfectly.
I am with you on hockey, though. I find myself increasingly discontent with 2-1 games in which goals are mostly a matter of which plinko ball makes it all the way through the mass of bodies. Watching MSU and Michigan play in the GLI was illuminating, as Mickey Redmond took some time to compare MSU's defensive strategy of packing all six players in or near the crease to the current NHL vogue, then complain about how the game was better when people were checking guys on the points. The game has shifted such that save percentages added in with the number of shots that don't get to the goalie means that maybe 1 of 50 point shots does anything useful.
Meanwhile, the single elimination format that works so well in less-random basketball is a complete disaster in college hockey. Hell, the addition of the shootout and the loser point in the NHL has made even the 82 game regular season(!) way less predictive than you'd think. This then bleeds into the playoffs, where 8 seeds beating 1 seeds is commonplace. While it's somewhat controversial, these days statisticians struggle to find meaningful differences between most NHL goalies.
As a result I'm in favor of rather radical changes that would help teams who dominate in shots and attack time win more games, starting with expanding the net by approximately as much as goalies have improved in the last 20 years. Nine of the top ten save percentage marks in NHL history have been posted in the last five years. The only guy in the top 35 to post his mark before 2000 was Dominik Hasek, who owns five seasons in that range. There isn't a season older than 1993 in the entire top 250. This kind of goalie dominance makes hockey unsatisfyingly random.
I prefer a world were everything that goes off the post now is a goal. This gets goalie save percentages back down to a place were .900 is pretty good, differentiates the goalie pool, and makes standing around waiting for a hail of rubber a worse idea. Then gradually introduce Olympic ice in new buildings, do something to fix the wreck that is the offsides rule**, and maybe futz with goalie pads so they're more like they were back in the day—heavier, harder to cover your five-hole with, more cumbersome.
Death to plinko hockey.
*[I'm setting aside the 1946-47 Washington Capitols from Wikipedia's list since that season was considerably shorter than a regular NBA season, and it wasn't even the NBA yet.]
**[Current position: allow play to continue as long as the offsides player immediately moves to tag up at the blue line. Any other action by the player brings a whistle. There's no reason for rushes to get broken up because a guy is one foot offsides.]
With Dileo departing, an overlooked change that will take place next year is at holder. Who do you think will assume this role? My preference would be Norfleet or Peppers since I could see them executing some razzle dazzle that would lead to me dumping marinara sauce on my head in joy.
I have bad news, Mike: it's almost certainly going to be Kenny Allen, the backup punter, with an outside shot of one of the backup quarterbacks.
Dileo was uniquely qualified to be the holder because he secretes a sticky substance from his fingers that gives him super catching powers. Peppers and Norfleet are unlikely to be in Dileo's class in that department, so Michigan will replace him with someone who takes a ton of snaps as part of his daily routine. This is the way of the world.
Yeah, that change will limit Michigan's ability to fake field goals. Michigan will probably just go for it instead, which is fine.
Was wondering if you could project who you think the starting CB will be next season. I may be in a minority but I was really impressed with Jourdan Lewis.
It's going to be tough for Lewis to fight his way past either incumbent starter, especially with Jabrill Peppers arriving on a cascade of hype, torrent of praise, and all other water-related-muchness of thing.
First, the incumbent starters. I know both Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess had issues with Tyler Lockett. This puts them in good company, as everyone who played a healthy Lockett this year got shredded. Overall Michigan finished 47th in yards per attempt and in a big pile at 23rd in interceptions despite having a mediocre-at-best pass rush. Countess and Taylor acquired ten of the seventeen interceptions, nearly all of them great plays instead of fortunate deflections. The eyeball test was pretty kind to both when in non-Lockett situations. (Also non-Indiana-tempo'd situations, which are a problem but one of a different sort than not being able to cover dudes.)
Meanwhile, the freshmen behind the starters were game but did give up a ton of yards in big chunks, whether it was because they phased out of reality or irritated the wrong gypsy. I don't think either starter is getting passed.
Then: Peppers. Historically, guys like Peppers have a breaking-in period of about half a season before emerging into a starting job late in their freshman year. Woodson, Hall, Countess, Jackson: all followed this path. With Michigan short on boundary corner types that seems like the most likely path for Peppers as well, starting the year as the third corner and gradually displacing Taylor as the season plugs along.
This doesn't leave much room for Lewis or Stribling this year. Michigan's corner depth is such that 247 is reporting that redshirt freshman Ross Douglas has been flipped to tailback despite being 5'10" and 180—the opposite of the rough and tumble brawler Michigan seems to want. While I expect both sophomores to get spot duty, a breakthrough is unlikely this time out.