Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
Yea, and God did say unto his people, “hot damn, I’m glad it’s basketball season, for verily, football season sucked.”
~ First Letter of St. Paul to the Annarborites
With the dong-punching albatross of 2013 behind us, we can move fully into winter sports season with vigor and aplomb. But without Mitch McGary. Worst. Trip. Around. The. Sun. EVER.
Every week we’ll keep tabs on Michigan’s non-conference opponents, the state of the Big Ten, the potential NCAA Tournament draw, and the suggested viewing /rooting guide for the upcoming week.
RPI Effect Only Teams:
It’s becoming clear that Michigan’s non-conference schedule was assembled by people who either don’t know how RPI works,* don’t know how math works, or aren’t sold on this whole “Arabic numerals are the wave of the future” thing. Three of Michigan’s opponents, UMass-Lowell (1-11), South Carolina State (4-8) and Houston Baptist (3-9) are below the 300 mark to KenPom, and Coppin State (4-9) fails to crack the super-elite group in the Top 270. Ben Folds Five wrote a song about these teams. Hint: it is not “The Luckiest.”
|RPI: drowning slowly.|
Outside of these masonry-like objects, Michigan played three of the ideal good-enough-to-not-kill-your-RPI-numbers-but-not-good-enough-to-beat-you-unless-LeVert,-Stauskas,-and-McGary-all-miss-significant-time type teams. Long Beach State (4-9) has won three in a row, including wins over Nevada and USC, and gave VCU and NC State some real competition. Holy Cross (6-6) hasn’t really beaten anyone, but they have beaten six non-anyones, so that’s something. Charlotte (8-4) has wins over Michigan and Kansas State, presumably because they were mad about not being invited to the BWW Bowl.
Big Sorts of Teams
Iowa State (12-0)
Significant Wins: Michigan, Iowa, @ BYU, Boise St.
Losses: [404 file not found]
The Cyclones weren’t ranked when Michigan played them, but they definitely are now. Forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang are both shooting around 50% from the field, with Ejim nearly averaging a double-double (18.0 ppg and 8.8 rpg). One caveat is that they have only played one game away from
Iowa City Des Moines Corn Rapids Ames, that being a 2 point win over BYU.
Florida State (9-3)
Significant Wins: VCU, UMass
Losses: Michigan (waives tiny flag), @ Florida, @ Minnesota
How important does that crazy-ass Michigan comeback in Puerto Rico feel now? At the time it was an amusing, “oh that’s a nifty little win,” but in hindsight it is a “THANK YOU BASED GOD” non-conference salvager.
Florida State could easily be 10-1 right now. They blew a 16 point lead against Michigan (including an 8 point lead and possession with 3 minutes left), and lost to Florida by 1 on a last-second offensive rebound despite outshooting and generally outplaying the Gators. Still, they look to be in that second tier of the ACC behind Pitt, Syracuse, and Duke, and MAYBE UNC. They are far from the most skilled team in the country, but will pose some significant matchup problems for a number of teams, given their overall largeness/tallness and tendency to be freeking huge. As Michigan’s best NonCon win, you will want to cheer hard for the Seminoles.
Significant Wins: Michigan, UCLA
Losses: Kansas, Arizona
From the makers of Jadeveon Clowney comes: Jabari Parker!!! Now with kung-fu crossover and Dick Vitale utility belt!!! Duke’s true freshman guard/wing/forward/goalie/ambassador/imperial wizard has been exactly as advertised, looking like the most college-ready of the mega-frosh. He’s averaging 22 and 8, and has scored 19+ points in every game but one this season. Guess which one.*
|Duke is really missing the Yellow Plumlee|
The weird thing is, we really don’t know that much about Duke. They lost to the two elite teams they played, beat Michigan (at home) and UCLA (at MSG), and beyond that have dispatched a large pile of unconvincing opponents by occasionally unconvincing margins. They beat Vermont by 1 point, ECU by 9, and Alabama by 10. Maybe it’s the fact that they are down to three Plumlees on the roster, which isn’t enough to form up the Megazord. They have played great offense and middling defense, and are probably among the favorites in the ACC once Parker settles in (/shudder).
*to those who accused GRIII of not being “into” that game, I suggest you try to stand between a bull mastiff and a squirrel for 40 minutes and tell me how it goes for you.
Significant Wins: San Diego St, Duke, @ Michigan
Losses: [Should have lost to Michigan but KenPom lied to all of us]
They’re okay, I guess. Arizona is deservingly number one in the polls, based on how the polls work, and are definitely among the elite teams, but… eh? Purported super-frosh Aaron Gordon has had a whelming start; according to people who watch last night basketball regularly, he's playing great defense and flashing hilarious athleticism, but isn’t consistent or diverse on the offensive end of the court. Arizona continues to look to Nick Johnson as their primary scoring option, and he’s dropping about 16 ppg. They’re clearly the class of a middle-heavy PAC 12.
Significant Wins: @ UConn
Losses: BYU, Pitt, Michigan (/blasts Katy Perry, waives crap out of tiny flag)
Stanford isn’t all that good. But they are okay. And Michigan beat them. So we will continue to treat them as if they are good. We call this the Akron Delusion.
Pay no attention to the fact that Stanford’s only remotely impressive win was a grinding, brick-laden slugfest over a UConn team that decided to play the entire second half in the style of breakdance-fighting. Seriously: Stanford was down by 10 at the half, scored 25 points in the second half, and won. That’s a crime against ManBearPig.
[After the jump: objects ahead, and the return of THING THEY ARE LIKE]
The regular season is behind us, and as such there isn't much to watch in terms of opponents. So for now, we have a brief primer on the Big Ten bowl season. I'm sure the Copper Bowl will be covered in great detail by people who know more about such things.
Rose Bowl: #5 Michigan State vs. #4 Stanford
Michigan State is the outright, undisputed, no takesies-backsies Big Ten Champion. They went undefeated in conference and rolled over Ohio State in the conference championship game. There was much celebration, which would have been a The-Who's-on-Christmas-Morning arm-in-arm singing if it weren’t for this guy informing everyone that couches were flammable. Way to ruin it for everyone, guy.
Stanford, meanwhile, had as many impressive victories as anyone in the country. They took down Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Notre Dame, and Arizona State twice. But they also lost to USC (post Kiffin) and… Utah. Utah finished 2-7 in the PAC 12, with their only other win coming against Colorado. If they don’t lose that game, are they playing Florida State in the title game?
One nice thing for traditionalists is that the Rose Bowl (the most expensive ticket of the season, by the way) will actually feature the Big Ten Champion and the PAC 12 Champion, which has happened only 5 of the previous 12 seasons. And as the playoff system picks up steam, this might be the last of its kind.
When the MSU has the ball:
|Points Per Game||29.8||PPG Against||18.6|
|Yards Per Game||385||YPG Against||339|
|Offensive FEI||38||Defensive FEI||2|
Given the level of competition Stanford has faced, their defense has been downright stifling. They held Oregon to 20 (after shutting them out through three quarters), UCLA to 10, and Arizona State to 14 in the conference title game. Stanford runs a 3-4, but often puts a fourth hand in the dirt in the person of world-destroying Trent Murphy (14 sacks, 21.5 TFL). Murphy will be a real test for Sparty’s tackles, who haven’t been as consistent as the interior guys.
Michigan State, meanwhile, didn’t decide it needed to score offensive points until October, at which point they became decent but not good enough to save their advanced stats for the year. Nevertheless, they made huge strides as the year went on, especially on the offensive line. We have discussed this. It made you anger vomit, remember?
When the Stanford has the ball:
|PPG Against||12.7||Points Per Game||33.2|
|YPG Against||248||Yards Per Game||413|
|Defensive FEI||3||Offensive FEI||16|
Sweet mercy this is going to be violent. Stanford plays the downhilliest of downhill football. Look at the offensive line splits here:
There is very little confusion about what the Cardinal is going to try to do. This is Brady Hoke’s vision for a utopian society, the difference being that Stanford has the horses to run it (Josh Garnett reference. Drink). And you all know how Michigan State’s defense rolls. They’ve shown a little vulnerability (relatively speaking, of course) to power running schemes, but with their ability to leave their corners on an island, this is going to be 8 or 9 men colliding with 8 or 9 men all damn day.
So? It’ll be interesting to see how Michigan State reacts to their new defensive staff given Pat Narduzzi’s TOTALLY IMMINENT departure. Probably about as poor as can be expected, which is to say they will only hit Devin Gardner 8 or 9 times. Stanford 7, Michigan State 6
Central Michigan (6-6, 5-3 MAC)
Since we last spoke: Central Michigan 37, UMass 0; Central Michigan 42, Eastern 10
Pre-season Fear Level: None.
Hindsight Fear Level: 2
Best Win: Ohio (26-23)
Worst Loss: UNLV (31-21)
Season Recap: Central was not a good football team this year, but damned if they didn't get to 6 wins and bowl eligibility somehow. They won 5 of their last 7 games, but their opponents in those games were a combined 11-49. Their most impressive win over Ohio (YTO). They finished 110th out of 125 teams in FEI.
Bowls. There are too many of them.
The Michigan game in hindsight: Ah, when things were fun and the offense worked and hope was a thing.
Notre Dame (8-4)
Hope sprung eternal.
Since we last spoke: Notre Dame 23, BYU 13; Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20
Pre-season Fear Level: 7.5
Hindsight Fear Level: 7
Best Win: Arizona St (37-34)
Worst Loss: Pitt (28-21)
Season Recap: Notre Dame made a strong bid for ChaosTeam '13, beating some impressive opponents (Arizona State, Michigan State, Kiffin-exorcised USC) while losing to Michigan and Pitt and ALMOST losing to Purdue. Much-maligned quarterback Tommy Rees finished just south of 3,000 yards and 27 TDs against only 13 interceptions, but completed only 53% of his passes. TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels formed a solid 1-2 punch in the receiving corp, and Cam McDaniel led a running-back-by-committee that put up 5.2 yards per carry. You just found yourself jealous of Notre Dame, didn't you? That's a bad feeling. Don't do that again. Here. This will help.
This. Always this.
Coming into the year, we expected the defense to carry a somewhat mediocre offense. Instead, the defense may have actually been the weaker unit. The offense put up 27 points and almost 400 yards per game, and scored 20 or more points in every game other than USC (when Tommy Rees was hurt) and Michigan State (when obviously). The back seven of the defense, however, never really gelled, and they finished as a middle-of-the-pack team in most advanced stats (30th in defensive FEI, 51st in Def SP+).
The Michigan game in hindsight: Once again, Notre Dame played Lucy to Michigan's Charlie Brown. DAMNIT NOTRE DAME STOP GIVING US FALSE HOPE EVERY YEAR.
[after the jump: everyone else is better than you think except Michigan and the teams who beat them]
About last week:
It’s not your fault. Well, actually it might be partly your fault
Iowa (6-4, 3-3 B1G)
Last Game: BYE
Recap: BYE means they didn’t play football. So there isn’t much to recap. Instead, we can talk about Iowa basketball. The Hawkeyes are #25 in the Coaches Poll, and the first team out of the AP Poll. They haven’t exactly played a brutal schedule (UNC-Wilmington, Nebraska-Omaha, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and Abiline Christian), but they are 4-0. Aaron White is scoring 15.3 ppg on 71% shooting and grabbing 7.8 rpg, and Roy Devyn-Marble is averaging 15 per game with a 4/1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Oh crap, it’s still football season, isn’t it?
/deep, resigned sigh
It’s hard to know what to make of Iowa based on a meta-review of their season. They have some solid performances, and a couple of clunkers. They played Ohio State even through three quarters, but struggled to put away Missouri State. They played one solid half against Sparty, and one ugly half against Sparty. They turned in a decent but ultimately doomed performance against Wisconsin (think MInnesota’s game against Michigan; low variance, but opponent’s rock > their rock). They beat Minnesota soundly, but went to overtime with Northwestern in the midst of Pat Fitzgerald’s neverending tumble into pouting insanity. All in all, their record is probably a fair representation of who they are: 6-4, 3-3 in conference. Solid team, hardly a world-beater. They are #39 in FEI, just behind Michigan’s #35.
Everything about this team is generic but pretty okay; Jake Rudock is completing almost exactly 60% of his passes for just under 7 YPA. They average a solid but unspectacular 4.5 YPC. They have scored 125 points in conference play and have surrendered 119 points. They are average. The problem, of course, is that right now Michigan is trying to find average, and no one really knows where they are in that search at any given moment.
The good news is that Iowa doesn’t do any of the stuff that should really scare Michigan’s defense. They tempo a little bit, but they don’t TEMPO tempo, ya know (shut up, Hypothetical Straw Man Iowa Fan… going no-huddle and snapping the ball with 6 seconds on the play clock doesn’t count as “tempo”). They don’t spread the field very much; they’re lining up more spread out these days, but the offense remains largely the same as in the past. They rely on running between the tackles and setting up screens and draws. They ain’t Indiana. The BAD news is that Iowa’s run defense remains good enough that Michigan will probably be staring at 2nd and 9-to-12 all day. This is going to be so much fun to watch. Who wants an orange whip? Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips.
This team is as frightening as: A giant noodle wearing an alternate jersey.
Fear Level = 7
Michigan should worry about: Those Iowa Tight Ends. We all know the history of the blitheringly open seam routes of recent Iowa games, and I worry about Joe Bolden’s pass drops and his ability to carry Jake Duzey or C.J.
Fiedorewitz Fadorawicz Fodoravitz the older guy down the seam.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Statistically speaking, it is unlikely that we will have to watch THIS unwatchable game for nearly as long as we had to watch LAST week’s unwatchable game.
When they play Michigan: Proper eye protection is a must.
Next game: vs. Michigan
[AFTER THE JUMP: Like it matters]
About last week:
I know I don’t normally opine on such things. I know I’m usually the snark guy. I just want to speak my piece, and I’ll return to character.
There is a legal concept called res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for "the thing itself speaks." The idea is that usually when you sue someone, you have to explain what the person did wrong. But there are some times when the thing that happens is so obviously wrong that the blame speaks for itself. If you take your car in for an oil change, and while it's there the car gets pregnant, you don't have to know WHAT the mechanic did wrong to know that he screwed something up.
I've got a dozen specific complaints about the game plan, personnel use, and play calling from Saturday, but I don't need them. Rushing for negative yardage against this defense speaks for itself. This was probably the worst statistical game from the running back position in the history of Michigan football, and came against a team that EVERY OTHER TEAM has found a way to bludgeon on the ground. Does it matter any more whether the problem is one of scheme, specific playcalling, predictability, player prep, or the general bloodymindedness of the universe? Anyone who takes the players available, along with the information available, and produces *THAT* has failed in some fundamental aspect of his job. The details are of secondary concern. Can ANYONE come up with a theory by which the team that entered fall camp could end up where it is without massive, widespread failures by the individuals responsible for crafting an offense? I’m really asking.
Okay, I’m done. On with the snark.
Line of Scrimmage (3-1259, 2-688 B1G)
Last game: Defeated Michigan by 21 yards.
Recap: Two weeks ago, the Line of Scrimmage put up its first B1G conference win. One week later, it scored its first ever home victory. As a result, this week it is riding its first ever winning streak. It’s a good time to be that thin blue line.
The final margin (48 yards) was larger two weeks ago in East Lansing, but last week’s win was far more unlikely and impressive. Saddled with a Nebraska’s defense that was giving up about 200 yards per game on the ground, most expected the imaginary transverse line separating the offense from the defense to be an afterthought. Instead, it stood tall.
The LOS got the goose-egg off its back in 2003, when Oregon held Michigan to -3 yards rushing at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
This team is as frightening as: Don’t let that .002% all-time winning percentage fool you. This is a shortest-distance-between-two-points on the rise. Fear level = 8
Michigan should worry about: The LOS’s winning streak has been keyed by sacks. Without them, Forward Motion would have squeaked by with narrow wins the last two weeks.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: The LOS is an imaginary line, and therefore has no physical ability to affect the world around it.
When they play Michigan: Watch for the LOS to implement a new non-Euclidian approach, permitting it to attack the running game in multiple directions.
Next game: vs. Poor Damn FitzDevin Gardnerssaint
[AFTER THE JUMP: Actual opponents]
About last week:
Everything the light touches is our kingdom. But the light only touches Ann Arbor.
Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 B1G)
Last game: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24 (W)
Recap: Had the Michigan game gone just a liiiiiittle differently, this would have been a frustrating result. Nebraska would have been Michigan's biggest remaining hurdle to a
Leaders Victors Legends Bo (NNTB) Division crown, and pulling one out of their ass like this would have been rather disappointing. Instead, the world just sucks and everything is terrible, so what the hell, FAT GUY HAIL MARY.
Nebraska outgained Northwestern 472-326, but turned the ball over four times and found themselves down 3 when the above hilarity happened. They actually faced a 4th and 15 at their own 24 with under a minute left, and Ameer Abdullah took a dump-off and broke about 4 tackles to gain 16 yards.
Despite the victory, Nebraska’s quarterback situation is a bit of a crap shoot. Taylor Martinez has a strained everything, and didn’t play in this one. Excluding the Fat Guy Hail Mary, Tommy Anderson Jr. and Ron Kellogg III combined for 21/41 for 228 yards (5.6 YPA), one touchdown, and four INTs. Armstrong is more mobile (he gained 69 yards on 17 carries), but his arm was rather Acme Rocket-like; among his three turnovers, he threw one of the worst picks you’ll ever see with about two and a half minutes left deep in its own territory with the game tied.
All things considered, the offense was still very productive, but it’s hard to say if the turnovers can be extricated from that productivity given the quarterback situation. Martinez is reportedly out for the Michigan game, though, which is a significant advantage for Michigan; Nebraska is going to have to tip its hand based on which QB is under center. If Armstrong is out there, I think you’ll see Jake Ryan out there on the assumption that Nebraska will be going run-heavy, whereas if Kellogg is out there Michigan will almost certainly be in a nickel.
This team is as frightening as: Oh hell everything is frightening now, even if it isn’t objectively frightening. Fear Level = 6
Michigan should worry about: Ameer Abdullah. He’s is already over 1100 yards on the season (or about negative-23 Michigan/MSU games worth), and is averaging 7.1 yards per tote. He's a home run threat who can also be an effective every-down back. With Martinez out last week, Abdullah got 27 touches, and there’s no reason to believe that number will decrease this week.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Nebraska’s Defensive FEI is 50th in the country… which is actually two spots BETTER than their Offensive FEI. They’ve put up some video game stats, but mostly against terrible defenses. They have played three defenses that are currently ranked in the top 93 in Defensive FEI (#23 UCLA, #30 Northwestern and #46 Minnesota), and have only averaged under 24 points per game in those three matchups. By comparison, they averaged 47 ppg against the #94, #95, #103, and #106 defenses and an FCS opponent. Michigan is statistically the best defense Nebraska will have faced this year.
When they play Michigan: Hurray for home games. Home games are good games. Home games don’t make me throw things.
Next game: @ Michigan
[AFTER THE JUMP: Poor Damn Northwestern]