I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
It's August and that means the return of my favorite fall sport. That's right, volleyball. While I haven't quite gotten to my season preview (should be one for volleyball and the soccers coming if next week goes as planned), stories are already hitting the news wire.
Today, the Big Ten released the Preseason Conference Poll and Preseason All Big Ten teams. Michigan, coming off a 27-10 regular season and #9 final national ranking, has been picked to finish 5th in the Big Ten (pdf) behind perennial favorite Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio State. This is pretty much on par with the final standings last year, where Michigan finished tied with Ohio State in 4th place.
Coach Rosen via MGoBlue:
"Preseason polls do not mean much," 12th-year head coach Mark Rosen said. "The conference is good enough right now that one through 11 is up for grabs. I really think that the Big Ten is the deepest it has ever been this year. We have a lot of work to do to live up to that finish, but I think that our team is up for it."
Along with the standings, Michigan also had two players named to the Preseason All Big Ten Team. Senior setter Lexi Zimmerman makes her 3rd consecutive Preseason All Big Ten Team, this time as a unanimous pick.
Joining Zimmerman on the Preseason All Big Ten Team is junior left side hitter Alex Hunt. Hunt makes her first appearance on the Preseason Team, and looks to be Michigan's biggest returning weapon after the graduation of Juliana Paz and Veronica Rood.
(Photos via MGoBlue)
This weekend marks the opening weekend to Big Ten play for the baseball team, so now seems the appropriate time to give an update on how well the other teams are performing around the conference. First, the standings, taken directly from BigTen.org:
|Team #s||National #s|
As we can see, Michigan is doing pretty well here with a winning record against a decent schedule (that's out of 301). But we knew that about the Wolverines already. So let's take a walk through the other teams, and we'll go in order of RPI, a better indicator of how well they've done.
For those interested, my preseason outlook.
The Spartans are the national headliners as far as the Big Ten goes right now. They lead the nation in fielding at .987 have handled the medium to bad teams on their schedule as they should. That shiny 16-4 record is justified, with two great pitchers on the front end of their bullpen and some good hitting to back it up.
As of right now, they're the national pick for taking the Big Ten crown, but the local coverage (particularly the bloggers of the Big Ten) tends to be more skeptical. Michigan State has played a meh schedule for the most part and lacks any wins over a major opponent. All four of the Spartan losses came against quality opponents, including a blow out at the hands of Louisville, a close loss and blow out loss at Mississippi State, and a 10-2 game in the opening week at Clemson. The rest of the schedule has been pretty light. There aren't many creampuffs, but the competition has not been strong. For instance, a sweep of Oakland dropped MSU 4 spots in the RPI.
There is definitely this feeling that much like any other Spartan team, they're due for a collapse somewhere in the middle of the conference season. They haven't had that consistent, successful season to build on yet, and this will be that learning year for a leap next year. I still like them to finish in the top 3-4 of the conference, but I just don't see them going wire to wire in the driver's seat.
The Buckeyes are probably the best team in the conference if their coach would maximize their players' potential, or provide any sort of motivating force. I've long heard rumblings from some Ohio State fans that Bob Todd isn't a great coach, that he's just rode the talent he's found through blind luck. While I'm a bit skeptical of all that, I recently did a guest post and statistical break down of Ohio State over at Buckeye State Baseball and the way he handles his lineup does make me question just how great of a coach he is. The number of pitchers that have missed seasons due to arm injuries would worry me, too.
This season that the Buckeye players have been playing well below their projections. Add that they are playing a seriously light schedule, the players just don't seem motivated. That is reflected most by their losses to DII Rollins and NAIA Webber International. That will probably change in conference, but if Todd's goal is to win the Big Ten and host a regional, he has to have a better OOC record with better OOC opponents.
When it comes to the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will probably pick up the slack. They still have the best lineup in the Big Ten. Their starting rotation is the only one in the Big Ten comparable to Michigan, so it's hard not to see them in the top two to finish the year, and probably in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament.
The loss of Ryan LaMarre was devastating for the Maize and Blue. It probably cost them at least one win per weekend against Texas Tech, St. John's/Louisville, UNC, and Coastal Carolina and sunk any hopes of an at-large bid. Who knows how much better the season would be going with their star, especially with the emergence of Coley Crank and Chris Berset. Now that Mike Dufek is getting hot, they've got the best 3-6 hitters in the conference. On top of that, they have the deepest pitching staff.
I think we see Michigan run through conference season and really get themselves worked back into the national picture. They probably finish between Michigan State and Ohio State in the final standings, and I think they're the team to give the Buckeyes a run for their money in the tournament. The series at Ann Arbor between the two will be huge. [Ed: rest of the conference after the jump.]