in town for free camps
This is our final roundtable before our summer hiatus; we pick things back up in early August. Craig is out because he's in Hawaii; Sam is out because he's going to like almost all of the Summer Swarm camps. Topics:
- Softball was just about there
- They should be really good again though
- Michael Onwenu says he'll take visits—how will Harbaugh react?
- The slow recruiting start (this is a meme that is probably going to die in the next month)
- John Baxterrrrrrr!
- Chili from TLC kind of calls in
THE USUAL LINKS
Max out. Max Bielfeldt heads to Indiana unless he gets cut before the season starts, which is about 50/50 given Tom Crean's roster ADHD.
It'll be interesting to see how that works out for both teams: Michigan knows exactly what went down in practice and did not ask Bielfeldt back even after it became clear they had an open scholarship slot. Since Bielfeldt was out-performing Donnal late last year (Doyle was almost always the first option when he was not sick as a dog), the confidence expressed by that decision seems to be about newly-strapping DJ Wilson. Wilson is certainly going to be more of a defensive presence than the ground-bound Bielfeldt.
Rebounding? Eh… leave it to Walton. I may actually be serious about that. In any case, rebounding is the most replaceable skill.
That is a frequently-injured, pre-Sanderson, freshman Doyle outperforming everything with reasonable sample size except senior Jordan Morgan. (Donnal's numbers should be taken in context: there were a half-dozen roll attempts last year that looked good on which Donnal didn't even attempt a shot, kicking back to the perimeter instead of opting for what should be one of the most efficient shots in basketball.) Bielfeld had 12 pick-and-pop possessions, FWIW—on actual rolls to the basket he was at 23 points on 21 buckets. That's 1.09 PPP.
Doyle was on par or better than Bielfeldt at just about everything you can do on a court other than grab defensive rebounds. He should improve a great deal as he ages, and then you've got Wilson and Donnal… minutes are going to be scarce.
Speaking of Walton. Any fears you may have had that his foot thing was going to be a problem this fall should be put to rest:
— spike albrecht (@SpikeAlbrecht) May 22, 2015
Walton joins a Camp Sanderson field that includes almost the entire team plus guys like Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr. Word is that one of the most impressive guys there is… Aubrey Dawkins. Going to be a good year.
Meanwhile, Spike's projected return:
Beilein also offered an update on Albrecht on Monday, saying that both of the guard's offseason hip surgeries were successful. Albrecht is still on crutches, but projects to a having a full return by the fall.
"In September, yeah, there's no question," Beilein said.
He should be ready for the season no problem.
A smart guy. Beilein on what the rules changes might mean:
Most focus on the offensive impact of the shot clock change, but the reverberation will reach the other end of the floor. Beilein noted that defenses will likely be more prone to shift from man-to-man to zone defense late in shot clocks.
"I think you'll see more teams flipping stuff and going zone later on because the ballscreen becomes so prevalent at that time," he said.
That would be interesting.
A litmus test. The NCAA just about gave up on serious punishments for anything short of child rape negligence after they threw the book at USC. OSU took a bowl ban and had to get rid of Jim Tressel after Tressel repeatedly lied to the NCAA, but they were spared the kind of scholarship restrictions that put a serious long-term dent in a program. Other than that it's been a series of wrist-slaps.
If anything is going to upset the current "do whatever it's fine" state of affairs, it is the situation at North Carolina. The NCAA at first decided to ignore it, but when forced to revisit the issue they seem to have done so with force. The notice of allegations has just been released, and it contains five separate "severe" violations, most of which are backed up by assertions of dozens of different incidents they encompass.
This will be the first truly major case since the NCAA moved away from calling everything from SMU to stretchgate "major" violations and implemented a four-level system. North Carolina is likely to admit lots and lots of "severe breach of conduct." The penalty guidelines for level 1 violations include:
- 1-2 years of postseason ban
- loss of 12.5% to 25% of scholarships
- up to a half-year ban on a head coach
If the violations are deemed to have induced "aggravation" those penalties can double, and if they stack… hoo boy. The NCAA would be well within its rights to bomb UNC's major sports into the stone age.
Will they? I doubt it.
I'm not really paying attention to this any more. Phil Steele's All Big Ten teams are… well, there's a lot of them. They don't seem that accurate:
The Wolverines did have a few All-Big Ten honorees, however, led by senior linebacker Joe Bolden. Bolden, who broke the 100-tackle mark last season, is a second-team All-Big Ten pick, per Steele.
Linebacker Desmond Morgan (third), offensive guard Kyle Kalis (third), wide receiver Amara Darboh (fourth), defensive back Jabrill Peppers (fourth) and punter Blake O'Neill (fourth) also received mention.
Just from a Michigan perspective, no Jourdan Lewis, no Jarrod Wilson, and Kalis over Glasgow make me wonder if Steele does much more than look at stats and recruiting rankings and guess. (He also does the irritating thing where he throws corners and safeties into the same bucket of defensive backs.)
Ratings up. If softball seems like a bigger deal than it did a few years ago, you aren't alone:
ESPN saw record viewership for the 2015 Women’s College World Series, notching its top two most-viewed Women’s College World Series bracket round games ever this past weekend. LSU/Michigan on Sunday averaged 1,950,000 viewers for the company while UCLA/Auburn on Saturday drew 1,612,000 viewers. Overall, the 2015 Women’s College World Series bracket round (May 28-31) averaged 1,055,000 viewers. Meanwhile, the 2015 Women’s College World Series Championship Finals Game 1 on Monday drew a 1.0 overnight rating, which is tied for the highest-rated WCWS Championship Finals Game 1 on record (since 2007) and a 43% increase (0.7 overnight) from 2014 WCWS Championship Finals Game 1.
The final two games may have beat that admittedly short-lived record.
Bracing? ISS has its final draft rankings out:
Final @ISShockey rankings for upcoming NHL draft: U-M D Zach Werenski is No.11 and F Kyle Connor (U-M commit) is No.13.
— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) June 2, 2015
Hopefully neither of those guys ends up in the wrong place. IE: The Kings or a like organization that doesn't want their guys to play college.
Etc.: In expected news, JT Compher is your hockey captain. Incoming forward Brendan Warren profiled. I could describe a great deal of commentators as "continual boofheads." AFC Ann Arbor origin story. You can chat with Stauskas and Beilein, get autographs and the like, for #chadtough.
One last cheesy sprinkle to remember:
As if we'd ever forget.
6/2/2015 – Michigan 1, Florida 0 – 60-7, Championship Series tied 1-1 (best of 3)
— Matt Lisle (@CoachLisle) June 3, 2015
I will get to what the ump called this later; it is up top for the visual: One of the two greatest Michigan softball teams in the history of a very good program is an inch away from something, and Florida, themselves one of the best teams ever assembled, huge, athletic, merciless, focused, defensive, is literally blocking Michigan's path.
This was a triumph. Everyone knew after Florida in the first game used Aleshia Ocasio, and relieved her with Delanie Gourley, that Player of the Year Lauren Haeger would get the melon—which looks more like an apple in her hands—in Game 2. Haeger throws as hard as anyone and has a kind of curve-change that complements it, but her primary weapon is that fastball has so much late life it's impossible to square, and even solidly hit balls die from that spin. It doesn't help that Florida's mechanical infielders are the best in the game at turning those goofy grounders into outs.
I'm making a note here: Huge Success. Sierra Lawrence welcomed Haeger by slapping a leadoff single through a left side playing tight on an 0-2 count, then beat out Florida's double-play attempt on Romero's grounder. Michigan then scored her on a single by Susalla. The rest of the night would be an all-out assault on that run. Sierra's nickname is "The Silent Assassin" because she steals third; last night her speed squeezed out a run when it seemed neither pitcher was going to give up any.
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction. Haylie Wagner staged her own assault. In the course of this season, which early on suffered the loss of fellow senior Sara Driesenga, the younger Megan Betsa has been Ace A and Wagner Ace B. Both have shone most brilliantly in relief of one another. Betsa pitched Game 1 of this series and as Ace mentioned yesterday, she was tentative. All day the Florida hitters (who drew over 100 hit-by-pitches this season) crowded the plate and Betsa threw away from them.
As she had in relief in Game 1, Wagner went right after them. Every once in awhile, usually whenever Haeger got to bat again, Florida would put a runner in scoring position and Haylie would pitch out of the jam.
These points of data make a beautiful line. The last such came in the 6th, when Florida got on with a bunt single with 1 out and Haeger coming up to bat. After two fouls (one to deep left, the other behind the catcher) fell just out of reach, Haeger connected and off the bat there was a sickening moment when you thought this was going to bloop over the infield. Instead it floated harmlessly into Romero's glove.
One more inning and two strikeouts later, Wagner had bought the Wolverines another 7 innings by adding 7 shutout frames to a current total of 0.00 runs in 20 innings in these WCWS.
That stat is downright insane considering over half of those innings have come against this lineup—Florida averaged 6 runs per game this year in the ur-pitcher conference, and was never shut out until Wagner did so last night. The rest of those innings were against the just-as-scary LSU, and UCLA. To put this in perspective, the football equivalent would be a defense going up against Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State, then Ohio State again, and giving up just a handful of missed field goals. If there's a better offense the lefty hasn't mowed down the last two weeks, it's only because it's on her side.
[Highlights from MGoBlue's janky video.]
We do what we must because we can. It was the third time these two teams played a dramatic 1-run game this year, and the first bears mention. It was Michigan's first game, Florida's second. Ocasio struck out 10 in that game, but Wagner kept #1 Florida to one run—off the bat of Lauren Haeger of course.
In the top half of the final inning, down to their last strike, Michigan tied it on a Christner double into right-centerfield gap. Wagner pinch-hit and, eerily similar to game 1 of this series, hit a deep fly ball that missed the foul pole by inches before getting out. In the bottom, Wagner walked the first two batters, and Florida bunted them over. Florida brought in a pinch-hitter who knocked what appeared to be a game-winning 3-run homer, except the Gators didn't properly inform the umpires she was being reinserted (they'd taken her out for a defensive replacement in the 6th). The home run was removed on the technicality. Then Wagner threw a wild pitch that ended both the game and the controversy.
At the time the Florida loss was the reason Michigan couldn't claim #1 even after romping through the rest of that month. A softball season at Michigan is kind of like a Wichita State basketball or Boise State football one: they play the first six weeks on the road in tournaments the southern teams schedule earlier and earlier (this game was on February 7th) because they can. Michigan tries to cram as many big wins as possible into that because the Big Ten season is mostly a "don't screw this up" marathon before the postseason.
For the good of all of us (except the ones who are dead). Was everybody kind of annoyed that Florida's players got a cut-video on ESPN doing a Gator chompy version of our "It's great… to be…" cheer? On one hand and 4/5 of the remaining fingers, the cheer doesn't have anything particularly applicable to Michigan except an arrogant tone, and the meter's just a liiiiitle not quite right for the lyrics, and we apparently stole it from Auburn in the 1980s, and certainly lately even when it's correct it's really not:
As long as we keep screaming we don't have to talk about how we nearly botched that two-minute drill.
On the last finger, they played that cheer with zero acknowledgement that Florida was appropriating the other team's thing. I guess anyone who would get the joke got it, and anyone who wouldn't probably thinks the Florida Gators have an arrogant cheer they're a syllable too short to be using.
[UPDATE: A guy in the comments claims Florida has been doing it since the 1960s. I'm not sure I'd trust half of what any Gator says, but the hand in favor of this cheer is down to a pinky nub].
I'm not even angry. On the blown call, I think John U. Bacon nailed the problem:
Another great game, Michigan v. Florida. But ump blew obstruction call at third. Why mic them? Knowing their mic'ed, they'd never admit it.
— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) June 3, 2015
Other than some Florida/SEC partisans who'd believe in whatever cake serves their interests, the public was in pretty strong agreement that obstruction call, the difference between a runner on 3rd with Christner coming to bat and going into the 6th up 1-0 with Haeger due up, was blown.
I was a softball IM umpire, which is about as relevant to the Championship Series as a little league ump's experience would be to MLB, but two things I'm pretty certain are universal across the sport are 1) how obstruction is called, and 2) you never tell a fellow umpire they blew the call unless you're certain. If you're told you blew something you respect that—this is your chance to not look like a fool or become part of the game.
The umps were mic'ed so we got to hear the field umpire come in and advise the plate ump she had obstruction, and the plate umpire respond harshly "I didn't have obstruction." I bet you a delicious chocolate cake if the country isn't listening in on the huddle that ump takes the get out of jail free card. Instead he sticks with his call so he's not the guy getting corrected on ESPN. Fortunately it didn't affect the outcome.
Other than that, and kind of a muddy outside corner both teams have been taking advantage of, the umpiring has been excellent so I'm willing to give him a mulligan on this.
Anyway this cake is great; it's so delicious and moist. Florida didn't take a loss until 26 games after the close brush with Michigan; in that loss then-#2 LSU put up 9 runs in the 1st inning and the Gators came back to tie it 10-10 before losing 14-10.
As you've seen the last two evenings, Michigan and Florida are pretty evenly matched, which is incredible if you've spent the last several years hearing how Florida is the kind of softball team a scientific testing facility would assemble if given unlimited time and resources to manipulate human bodies for maximum softball output. The prevailing wisdom had them winning the national championship this year even before they did last year.
Michigan may be frustrating to them, but it's not plucky upset frustration so much as why do these teams both have to exist the same season!? As a fan you're terrified of everything but to the softball world Michigan is nearly as much a juggernaut, the Brady to their Manning, the Ali to their Frazier, the Nadal the world was crying for since the moment Federer ascended to the top of it. The season until now was hardly preliminary, but exactly nobody is surprised it will end in a game between the Gators and Wolverines.
And end it will. By the time the Earth has spun half-way around today Wagner's streak and Haeger being allowed to play against college students, and the careers of Wagner and Lauren Sweet (we'll wait and see if Driesenga gets a medshirt), and Romero's record-obliterating season will be something to remember instead of live. The expectation was for this year to come down to these colossi, and all promises were kept.
|What:||Michigan vs. Florida Game 3 for the National Championship|
|When:||Tonight, 8 ET|
|Where to watch:||ESPN|
THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING
ENRICHMENT CENTER ACTIVITY!!
When Haylie Wagner was a freshman Brian and I met for a softball game and discussed how we're going to make an indie football preview book. At the time he said the problem with softball is the pitchers are so dominant that games end 1-0, and Exhibit A was this freshman pitcher before us, one of two such luxuries (Driesenga) on that team, mowing down overmatched hitters with her nasty lefty stuff.
Tonight, in a year hitting came back like it was 1920, facing the Babe Ruth of softball, Michigan plated its first batter and Haylie pitched seven shutout innings to put Michigan one win away from a national championship.
And you can't have one without the other…
See you tomorrow at 8.
It might be time for Haylie Wagner to start in the circle. [Fuller]
Until the gut punch, that felt familiar.
For the third straight game, Haylie Wagner pitched stellar scoreless ball in relief of a shaky Megan Betsa, and Michigan's powerful offense mounted a comeback. This time, however, the comeback stalled on third base; Sierra Romero didn't advance to home on a double-play attempt, and the final two Wolverine batters couldn't knock her in.
Now Michigan is left in the same position they were in 2005, facing consecutive must-win games against the defending national champs. We know it can be done, and while last night's loss stung, it was readily apparent this squad can hang with the Gators.
|What:||Michigan vs. Florida, Game 2 of Final Series (UF leads 1-0)|
|When:||Tonight, 8 ET|
|Where to watch:||ESPN or WatchESPN|
Some scattered thoughts on last night's game and tonight's prospects, which is about the best I can muster at the moment:
ON ROMERO. One can only hope this series isn't defined by Romero's failure to break for home. It'd be a great injustice for a great player, especially because of the way Romero got to third base in the first place; she took a leadoff walk instead of trying to win the game on her own, then advanced to second with her usual heads-up baserunning on a passed ball before Kelly Christner's single.
When Kelsey Susalla hit the potential double-play ball, Romero hesitated, and that split-second of indecision gave her no choice but to stay at third. Yes, it cost Michigan a run on the play, but she still stood on third base with less than two outs. Michigan was still in a good position to tie the game; they just couldn't pull it off, and that's not all on Romero.
IT'S TIME. I'm not sure what else Wagner needs to do to show she deserves the start tonight. This should be enough:
Michigan Pitchers - Last 3 Games Wagner: 11.2 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 6 H, 11 SO Betsa: 7 IP, 9 R, 9 ER, 11 H, 9 SO
— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) June 2, 2015
Given the stakes, I don't think Michigan can afford to see if Betsa regains her confidence—and her ability to throw first-pitch strikes—before making a change, and it sounds like Carol Hutchins is thinking along those lines:
Hutchins confirmed what has been obvious, that Betsa is struggling with confidence, but wouldn't clearly indicate who might start Tuesday.
"She appears to have some confidence problems, I would say," Hutchins said. "We need our best confidence on the mound, I can tell you that. It's a long tournament hopefully, so we need to get her confidence back. There's no reason not to have confidence this point in the season. It's been a tough week so far."
I'd be surprised if Wagner isn't in the circle from the beginning tonight. There's little room for error, and even less so if Florida makes a pitching change of their own and starts national player of the year Lauren Haeger.
MICHIGAN ARGUABLY PLAYED BETTER. The Wolverines ended up with 11 baserunners, the Gators with six. Wagner nearly tied the game in the sixth when she cracked a ball just outside the left-field foul pole. Sierra Lawrence nearly did the same later that inning with a long fly that had the trajectory but not the distance, barely. After Betsa's struggles, Wagner shut down the Florida offense, and Michigan put up serious offensive threats in the final two innings.
While Michigan lost, they should still have confidence; this game swung on a few plays, and tonight those could easily go the other way.
THUMBS UP, ESPN. When ESPN announced they were adding Curt Schilling to the broadcast for the final series, I was worried the conversation would get bogged down in Softball 101 and how-can-we-compare-this-to-baseball. While there was a little of that, to be sure, I thought Schilling was a good addition to an already strong announcing crew. He showed a great appreciation for the game—which he's quite familiar with, thanks to his daughter—and his analysis was insightful while leaving room for his more experienced counterparts to lead the discussion and guide him when necessary.
The softball broadcasts have been all-around excellent, and it was nice to see Schilling fit right in. While he rubs some people the wrong way, he worked really well in this role.
I DIDN'T PLAN TO BE THIS EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED. At some point in the later innings last night, I realized I was more emotionally invested in the game than I had been for any Michigan sporting event since the Elite Eight game against Kentucky. It felt great, even without the desireable result. I'm no softball buff—like many of you, I started watching when the games hit national TV—but it's impossible to watch one of these games and not get hooked in by the skill, excitement, and emotion. These are world-class athletes hell-bent on making their games as fun as possible.
If it ends tonight, it's been a wonderful ride. I hope it doesn't end tonight.