Tennessee is not recruiting well just because they got 18 dudes
An irregular series in which I fix all of a sport's problems. Previously: hockey.
10. Use goal line technology. The imposition on the flow of the game is minimal and there is no reason to not have it. Whether or not a goal is scored is kind of a big deal in a sport that sees 3 or 4 a game.
9. Offsides is reviewable on goals. Again, this disrupts the 90-minute-flow that soccer and only soccer has. But since the game is getting broken up anyway—at least slightly—a quick peek at whether an offsides was or was not accurate is worth it as long as they adopt the NFL's hard limit on time available to make a decision. If it's not obvious in 30 seconds the call is close enough.
8. Stop the clock when people are injured. Ideally soccer would dump the whole stoppage time concept and have a clock that actually reflects what time it is. Every other sport manages this. In lieu of a total overhaul which is not coming, soccer games should borrow a concept from college soccer and allow the ref to cease the inexorable march of time with an X symbol over his head.
The X is deployed when the game is stopped because a player is down. Right now the perception amongst players is that falling over when nursing a late lead helps you win, so it happens all the time. Erase that perception and second half time-wasting gets 50% more tolerable.
7. Yellow cards for being Pepe. In the Champions League Final, Real Madrid defender Pepe twice rolled around like he'd been shot after light taps to his face. These should be cardable events. I will also accept a firing squad.
6. Dump Financial Fair Play and replace it with… I don't know. FFP, if you don't know, is an attempt to prevent a rich owner buying a Chelsea or Manchester City and making them very good by spending a lot of money. Because teams are allowed to spend what they make it tends to set the current power structure in concrete, Leicester notwithstanding. Also it does not work for the same reasons that NCAA amateurism rules, and prohibition more generally, don't work. There is always someone smart enough to cheese the rules. Like… yep, Leicester.*
I have no idea what to do with it in its place. Ideally the euro soccer structure would change so that a Leicester City event was more of a one-in-ten-year event instead of one in a hundred, but I struggle to come up with something that would work. Even Germany—which has the most even revenue distribution and rules against club ownership by individuals—has seen Bayern win four straight titles and 12 since 1998.
The predictability of euro soccer is the main reason I can't be bothered to care about any of it. I have the choice of picking the Yankees or the Lions, and no thanks to either. But without radically reshaping it into a socialist American-style thing*, which isn't happening, there appears to be no solution other than buying a little defensive midfielder from Ligue 2.
*[The cheesing Leicester managed was not enough to get them anywhere near the giants in the EPL and should not color anyone's perceptions of the magnitude of their accomplishment. The fact that there's a Guardian expose on the fact that Man Who Owns Soccer Team Spends Money On It that includes the phrase "Leicester City’s dash to an unlikely Premier League title is billed as football’s most romantic story in a generation but" is so very NCAA and demonstrates why FFP is destined to fail.]
**[The irony here is vast, yes.]
5. Allow refs some discretion on PKs. Right now a lot of fouls in the box don't get called because the punishment for them is outlandishly severe. Also some harmless situations get punished in an outlandishly severe way. If a ref spots a foul in the box that doesn't disrupt an imminent scoring chance he should be allowed to call for a free kick at the spot.
4. Free kicks resulting from fouls that draw yellow cards should be more dangerous. Defenders should not be allowed to line up in the penalty box on the resulting free kick unless they are level with or behind the ball*. That's not as severe as a penalty kick, but it's a lot more severe than it currently is and would adequately punish teams that specialize in those canny fouls just outside of PK territory.
*[IE, they can still defend the opposition on FKs that are more or less corners.]
3. No shootouts in finals. I don't care what you have to do to prevent them. Anything vaguely resembling the actual sport that's going on is far superior to the current system, in which all of a sudden a darts competition breaks out after 120 minutes. The only person who likes that is Steve Lorenz. I grudgingly accept that maybe you have to have shootouts for early stages in competitions because winning the equivalent of a triple OT hockey game is going to destroy your fitness for the next game. Finals should end with someone scoring a goal.
There are various ways to approach the problem but I think the simplest and best is to remove the goalies after 30 minutes of extra time and play sudden death. Is that 100% soccer? No. But it's at least 50% instead of 0%.
2. All throw ins must have a totally rad flip before them. I mean.
This one is obvious.
1. Teams have the option of putting a guy on field with skates. Offsides does not apply to him. Goals he scores count double. It works for any sport!
Some of the best uniforms in college football
In the BCS era, only five programs from the non-automatic bid conferences made it into a big bowl game – Utah and TCU each made it twice and are now in Power 5 conferences, Boise State also played in two BCS (and one New Year’s Six) games and usually is one of the best mid-major teams, and NIU, with one BCS bowl appearance, has won its division in the MAC seven straight times. And then there’s Hawaii. After Greg McMackin left the program amid controversy relating to a homophobic slur McMackin used in an interview, Hawaii hired Norm Chow, who proceeded to go a combined 10-36 from 2012 until most of the way through 2015 – he was fired before the season ended by a new athletic director.
Hawaii reached its apex with that undefeated regular season and Sugar Bowl appearance* back in 2007, but the Rainbow Warriors have largely struggled since and are on their third crack at replacing June Jones, who left after that year to coach SMU. That 2007 team was amazing (and has a really well-detailed Wikipedia page, which is something I’m sure Michigan fans can appreciate): UH didn’t play the toughest schedule, but they won six(!) one-score games en route to a 12-win season behind Colt Brennan and Jones’s wide-open Run-and-Shoot offense. Unfortunately, Hawaii is far removed from those days, which seem like a distant memory.
Of course, the recent losing amplifies the underlying existential uncertainty that seems to follow Hawaii around. Their football program was rescued by the Mountain West after the WAC fell apart, but supposedly the unique (mostly financial) challenges of college football’s most remote outpost generate an undercurrent of rumors about the solvency of the program. There haven’t been any indications that the Rainbow Warriors won’t be playing football in the future, though attendance issues and extreme travel costs are cause for concern. Since the program has been around since five decades before Hawaii became a state, it seems unlikely that the program would ever be forced to drop down a division or quit football entirely – but I guess you never know.
*Georgia destroyed them, but still.
[After the JUMP, the scoop on UH]
Ambassador Long Already At Work
Jim Harbaugh called David Long a potential ambassador for the program, and that appears to be coming to fruition already. Five-star CA CB Darnay Holmes hasn't been mentioned much around here, but that's about to change, per 247's Steve Lorenz:
“Michigan is for sure moving up in things," Holmes told Huskers Illustrated analyst Mike Schaefer over the weekend. “Coach Jim Harbaugh is building a monster up there. My best friend David Long is going up there in June. Dylan Crawford is up there. A lot of California guys go up there. That shows Ann Arbor isn’t a bad place to go."
There are a few promising things to note here. Holmes plans to take an official visit to Ann Arbor in the fall. Long is quoted in the article saying Holmes is "like a blood brother," and he's been talking to both Holmes and his father about Michigan. Perhaps most tellingly, Holmes talked up Michigan to a Nebraska reporter.
Lorenz added a report today that provides a new layer of intrigue. Yesterday, Jim Harbaugh contacted Desean Holmes, Darnay's cousin and a 2015 four-star receiver who didn't enroll at San Diego State for personal reasons. Desean could visit soon, and if he winds up at Michigan, Lorenz "strongly believe[s]" that would move Michigan up Darnay's list. Desean could fill a major 2017 need with Chesson and Darboh outgoing and help deliver a five-star corner. Sounds good to me.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
I’ve been mulling this over for a bit and I don’t know it makes for a mailbag question, a separate post or even just a “here are some helpful links Dana” reply but here goes;
How would you guys explain (REALLY explain) college hockey to someone new to the sport? I’m not a complete layman, I follow the team through MGoBlog and even spent a couple summers at Red Berenson camp years ago, but when it comes to Michigan athletics it’s definitely Football, Basketball and Hockey in that order that I follow.
So again, how would you guys explain college hockey to a layman or someone who wanted to know more;
- Conference makeup and where the power in college hockey lies (who is the SEC of hockey, etc) -
- RPI (convenient way to rank all 60 teams or nah?)
- Recruiting (where do US College Hockey players come from I guess…did I mention I’m Canadian?)
Time to break out some bigger headers.
Penn State blew it up, but it needed to blow up [Bill Rapai]
College hockey is a bifurcated sport with two main areas of interest: the East, which consists mostly of New England and the occasional Pennsylvania team, and the West, which is concentrated in Minnesota and Michigan with scattered outposts in Nebraska, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. There are also a couple of Alaska teams funded largely by the state's desire to have local sports of any variety and two weird outliers: Arizona State just started a program, and Alabama-Huntsville has one for… reasons.
The East is more or less static with some minor movement. From top to bottom:
- Hockey East contains almost all of the big state schools in New England plus various private institutions that fit in for historical reasons. BU and BC are the perennial powers with a rotating cast of other teams who are good enough to make the tournament. UNH and Maine used to be powers but have fallen off a bunch recently. ND joined up and is quickly departing because HE is kind of perfect.
- The ECAC is about half Ivy League schools and half academically respectable schools in upstate New York and environs. Historically they've been a weak league with one bid more often than not, but in recent years surges from Union, Quinnipiac, Yale, and Harvard have seen them lock down high seeds in the national tournament and even a couple of national titles. Sustainability of this surge is in question.
- Atlantic Hockey is a one-bid league that does not offer the full scholarship complement of 18—I think it's 12 for them. They're the Horizon League, basically.
The vast majority of these teams are smack on top of each other. HE and the ECAC are bus leagues in which most weekends see two different teams come to town. AH is a little more spread out with teams in Pittsburgh (Robert Morris, Mercyhurst) and Colorado Springs (Air Force, which wants to be in the same conference as Army and Navy).
The West is now all over the place. There used to be two conferences, the WHCA and CCHA. The CCHA was all the Michigan teams save Tech and everything else in the Midwest. The WCHA was all the Minnesota teams, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and the two Colorado teams. Those conferences split the Alaska teams. The Big Ten blew this all apart a couple years ago, and now:
- The NCHC is more or less the top half of the old WCHA (minus Minnesota and Wisconsin) plus WMU and Miami from the old CCHA. This means they have a couple of major powers and a large number of respectable outfits. They are probably the best conference in college hockey at the moment. They just added Arizona State, an upstart program that just finished its first season.
- The Big Ten is a six-team league consisting of Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State. It is currently in a down phase since Michigan is in Berenson limbo, Minnesota had an off year, Wisconsin took too long to replace Mike Eaves, and Michigan State spends every day of every year spitting on their rich heritage. Wisconsin is going to get real good real quick here and once Mel Pearson (knock on wood) comes back from Tech, Michigan will also get back to what it was. ND, who will be good as long as Jeff Jackson is around, joins next year.
- The WCHA got stuck with the leftovers from both the CCHA and WCHA. There are some good teams in there, but it's more mid-major than major.
The West is far more spread out than the East. The addition of the Big Ten was deeply controversial, especially in Minnesota, but once Penn State added a program it was a fait accompli.
One benefit of shakeup: the addition of a conference now gives new programs a landing spot. Previously the WCHA and CCHA were both full at 12 teams; new programs eked out an existence as an independent or in the ever-shifting, now-defunct College Hockey America. Many of them failed. Without the Big Ten it's tough to see an Arizona State adding a program. Also, Penn State has been a great success. They just missed the tournament this year and play to a sold-out rink.
I believe hockey is unique amongst NCAA sports in that they select and seed their tournament exclusively by a formula. The Pairwise used to be a complicated pile of factors that overweighted some things (recent games, nonconference schedule) and underweighted others (how good you are at hockey). Elements of it were gradually pared away until the current version, in which there are three factors. One of those, head to head, usually doesn't apply. RPI breaks ties when it disagrees with the other factor, common opponents. So these days with very limited exceptions RPI == Pairwise.
College hockey RPI is okay. They do some home/away weighting that is out of whack with stats and they have a quality win bonus for beating top 20 teams. (This is approximately the top third of D-I.) That latter plus the relative lack of true tomato cans means a lot of the issues basketball RPI has do not apply. The end result makes enough sense that people don't complain about it much.
There is a competing ranking system called KRACH that is more mathematically rigorous but tends to overrate schedule strength; the differences between the two are a lot more muted now that the WCHA, which was by far the best conference before the shakeup, is no longer in its Voltron form.
Teams play 34 or 36 regular season games plus a conference tournament and an NCAA tournament. (You get a couple extra games if you go to Alaska.) Games are usually on Friday and Saturday nights with the occasional midweek or Sunday game. Somewhere between 20 and 28 of these are conference games, depending on the number of teams in each. Conference tournaments generally have a round or two of best-two-of-three matchups and then a single-elimination final 4 (or 5).
TV coverage is poor unless you're Minnesota or Notre Dame. Regional sports networks were generally carry a handful of games. FSN covers every Minnesota game that the BTN does not; NBCSN picked up a bunch of ND games because ND. The Big Ten Network covers a reasonable number. Full coverage is rare, and smaller schools often rely on streaming. Even megapower North Dakota struggles to get TV coverage, with only 4 national games a year ago.
Hockey has a 16-team single elimination tournament held at four regional sites and then a Frozen Four modeled after… well, you know. The Frozen Four is a successful and well-attended event that will draw a full house or something near to it even when it's thousands of miles away from the nearest hockey program. The regionals are half meh and half a disaster.
The meh half is in the East, where the teams are so close together that the NCAA can rotate through a more or less defined collection of mid-sized arenas that will all be reasonably full because at least two fanbases will be right on top of them. Atmospheres are still muted for the most part.
Neutral site college hockey is not well attended [Jason Coller]
The West is the disaster. Michigan has seven college hockey teams and hasn't seen more than one NCAA regional in a decade; instead the committee keeps putting regionals in places like Fort Wayne, St. Louis, and even Omaha, in buildings way too big and with ticket prices way too high. A second West regional is generally in the WCHA footprint, Minneapolis as often as not. These regionals are almost universally attended by marching bands and crickets and are loathed by literally everyone in the college hockey world except a plurality of coaches who either think playing in a tomb gives them a better chance to win or are in the East and therefore don't care.
There have been some rumbles that the NCAA will finally move away from the failed regional model in the next few years, but I'll believe it when I see it. It's a shame, because Yost hosted a couple of regionals a decade ago, and they were insane. So insane that the rest of college hockey got mad and more or less banned campus sites. The leadership of college hockey has failed massively in this department.
On the other hand, college hockey has pioneered most of the rules that the NHL adopted over the course of the past decade. These include no-touch icing*, two refs, and getting rid of two-line passes. The main differences between the NHL and the NCAA that remain are
- fighting is five, a game, and a suspension in college
- there is no goalie trapezoid behind the nets
- five-on-five OT, with shootouts only applicable to conference standings**
- no handpasses, anywhere
- Olympic rinks are allowed
Also you have to wear a full shield.
*[The NCAA had pure no-touch icing until a few years ago, when they went to the same hybrid icing the NHL did.]
**[A game that ends in a shootout is treated as a tie for RPI purposes.]
These days a plurality of players come from the USHL, a "Tier 1" junior league spread throughout the Midwest. The USHL and NAHL, another junior circuit with two main hubs in the upper Midwest and Texas, were about on par until a decade or so ago when USA Hockey created the Tier 1 designation and the USHL went after it. In general this means a higher level of facilities and support for the players. If you believe in point equivalences—ie the idea that a league can be judged by how well its players' scoring translates to higher leagues—USHL to AHL/NHL point transitions are more or less on par with the CHL. The NAHL is some distance back and their players usually populate lower-tier teams and fourth lines.
USA Hockey's National Team Development Program also plays in the USHL but is a thing apart. They have U17 and U18 teams that play a variety of international tournaments and, for the U18s, a ~30-game schedule of exhibitions against college teams. The U17s draw the majority of USHL games and generally get cranked due to the age gap. The NTDP gets about 80% of the first round NHL draft picks who are headed to college.
Minnesota and New England both have high school hockey that is good enough to produce a lot of recruits, and the NCAA recruits from various non-CHL junior leagues across Canada, the most prominent of which are the BCHL and OPJHL, if the latter is still called that. Per the most recent NCAA data 24% of NCAA hockey is played by "nonresident aliens," the vast majority of whom are Canadian.
One key difference between Canada and the US is that US players will often stick with their junior teams after high school. USHL teams can have players up to 20 and for many teams their answer to recruiting deficiencies is to bring in older and older players. There was a recent kerfuffle when the Big Ten, which generally recruits right out of high school, introduced a proposal to reduce eligibility for players who enter college older than 20. Everyone yelled at them and it was withdrawn.
Level of Play
More variable than the CHL but likely to be better overall. In large part this is due to age. College hockey players are on average much older than CHL players, and now college alums make up about 30% of the NHL. While the CHL has more NHL prospects per team—both leagues have about 60 teams total—the NCAA's are more concentrated, so unless you have a lot of Atlantic Hockey teams on the schedule that gap between future NHLers is smaller. The NCAA also has a significant edge in point equivalencies. Three years is apparently more than enough to bridge the gap in relative NHL draft status.
The Hail To The Victors 2016 Kickstarter slams shut at 3 PM. This is already the most successful year we've ever had, so many of you have already bought the book and various ancillaries. We thank you for that. If you haven't already, you could… you know… do so.
Did you guys really change the cover? No. We did get pinged by compliance about a potential problem with using a guy with eligibility on a Kickstarter so we pulled it—while we look at it as a preorder, it's not worth the bother. Every preview magazine since time began has had an editorial photo on the cover and ours will also.
But you already made your goal. Yes. From your perspective the Kickstarter gives you an opportunity to get things you can't get elsewhere. From our perspective, the Kickstarter tells us about how many to publish and is the most efficient way to exchange goods and services without (much of) a middleman.
But I want multiple shipping addresses. We decided a few years ago that this was not a good idea because getting all these addresses was a cluster and it slowed down everyone's shipping. This is a valid reason for you to not back the Kickstarter.
But I want a stretch goal. If we hit 75,000 I'll call someone a horseface? This is going to happen anyway eventually so it is a bad stretch goal.
Michigan is poised for a major in-state recruiting haul that could include Ambry Thomas [left, Rapai]
When 247 created the industry composite rankings, there was no longer a good reason for me to continue putting together the old Big Ten recruiting rankings posts. In the absence of those, however, I haven't done a great job of providing an overview of conference recruiting in the roundups. This new, recurring feature should rectify that issue—I plan to publish these on a monthly basis.
While it should come as little surprise that Ohio State and Michigan have separated themselves from the pack, the current rankings of the rest of the conference aren't exactly what you'd expect. Via 247, here's how the Big Ten team rankings currently stand:
[After THE JUMP, separating the conference into tiers.]
— Max Olson (@max_olson) May 26, 2016
everyone some people. Others get tiny American flags. First Ken Starr, and today Art Briles. For Baylor to fire the best coach in their history by several light years, the reports that have already come to light are probably the tip of the iceberg. They're bad. They're very bad. But programs will go to extraordinary lengths to keep coaches as good as Briles around, so expect a bombshell. Like, another one. If "football team brings down university president" isn't enough for you.
Oh and here it is:
Key findings of the Pepper Hamilton report, according to Baylor: pic.twitter.com/BBKkE1ach9
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) May 26, 2016
That'll do it. Last time I mentioned Baylor I said you could "go either way" on Briles, which wasn't particularly clear: I meant whether he should lose his job, not whether he was implicated in this or came off well. Moot point now, and obviously there's no way to read Art Briles as anything other than despicable.
I wonder if the NCAA will get involved here. This is a million times worse than anything Ole Miss has done. Giving people money is generally helpful to them. Enabling sexual assault is… not. This should be the very definition of lack of institutional control; Baylor is systematically overlooking felonies to make their football team better. This is Paterno-level stuff here.
Pause. … Yeah, I mean that. Baylor created more rape in the world. This is probably worse, at least in terms of the actions taken by the football staff, than the Paterno thing since it appears people actively got involved in direct violation of title IX.
Like whatever man. This is my opinion on the #1 jersey:
I'm placing "Braylon Edwards on the #1 jersey" in the Never Talk About This Again bin. It's right next to the Fab Five.
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) May 25, 2016
I offered this opinion because like clockwork someone asked Edwards about #1 because someone had the temerity to issue it.
No offense to the Fab Five or Braylon Edwards, but I have massive fatigue about these topics. I don't want to hear about how Jalen Rose asked Sandy to the dance but Chris Webber already did that and now one of them is mad at the other and they haven't talked for 15 years. And I don't want to hear about Braylon Edwards's quest to take the One Jersey to Mount Doom and his inevitable opinion that anyone who hasn't taken the One Jersey to Mount Doom shouldn't get to wear it. I know how he feels about this. We can take it as read. I know that Jalen and Chris are in the world's longest performance of Mean Girls. I would rather hear about anything else.
Well maybe not anything else. It turns out that firing Jason Whitlock is necessary but not sufficient to have a successful venture. The first piece that's been social media'd into my lap from The Undefeated is this article on how black people don't do analytics from Michael Wilbon. Wilbon talks about how stats are dumb about as frequently as I talk about how people are just in charge of things, but usually he doesn't bring damn near 20% of the American populace with him. At least he included someone bombing his dumb ass in his own column:
“So many front offices are staffed by guys like me, who didn’t play the game, who didn’t come in through the coaching ranks … Don’t tell me that there are no black people who are good at math. There are black people who expert at qualitative analysis,” Elhassan said. “I worry that it becomes a way to exclude. Don’t tell me there aren’t any black people on Wall Street who are passionate about basketball. These people exist. Wall Streeters, people with qualitative analysis backgrounds. I know them. I went to school with them. I just don’t believe that one ethnicity is more predisposed to this than another. You realize, of course, that this is the new gateway into the game … into sports?”
I'll let Elhassan speak to the wider implications of Wilbon's piece. I just want to focus on Wilbon's inability to grasp what he's even saying. This paragraph is a perfect encapsulation of Wilbon's worldview:
My friend and ESPN colleague J.A. Adande relayed a conversation he had a couple of seasons ago with Stephen Curry when the then-future MVP was transitioning from shooting guard to point guard. Curry told Adande one of the biggest differences he noticed immediately was playing the point took him away from the corners of the court, where he felt most comfortable taking 3-pointers. Curry didn’t cite any numbers, just his comfort level shooting from the corners relative to the top of the arc. Only later, after the shift, did we learn how much better Curry was from the corners. One stat, according to ESPN Stats & Information, assigned Curry some number in excess of 100 for his 3-point sniping from the corners. This tells you just how bogus the exercise is if the “percentage” reports to be greater than 100.
Step by step:
1. Curry says playing PG takes him away from the corners, where he thinks he shoots better.
2. Statistic created by ESPN confirms this.
3. Wilbon agrees that this is true.
4. Wilbon dismisses the stat because it is over 100.
5. Wilbon thinks this means ESPN believes Curry hits more than all of his shots from the corner.
That is the most ignorant thing ESPN has put in the world for years and yes I am including First Take. Wilbon doesn't bother linking to or explaining what this metric is, because he's a columnist and that means he can put a piece on the internet that references something else on the internet without telling you what that is. But I bet one dollar that this metric, as many are, is calibrated such that a league average player gets 100.
In the very next paragraph Wilbon whines that efficiency metrics are per 100 possessions instead of per 48 minutes. If black people really were the monolith Wilbon suggests they are, they would do well to assemble and vote him out of the race. Ditto SAS, who apparently got on the same bandwagon in a Sportscenter clip you literally could not pay me to watch.
Etc.: David Schilling blasts the Wilbon article in a witheringly entertaining piece. Saddi Washington profiled. Samoans happy to get a visit from Harbaugh. Ross Fulton on OSU's defense in 2016. Josh Rosen on UCLA's endorsement deal. Hockey gets a commit from Jake Slaker, who had 42 points in 57 USHL games this year. Also team captain. 19.
[Ed-S: We asked SBW to cover one of the best teams in Michigan sports history. Previously: Postseason primer]
All photos from Bryan Fuller
The Ann Arbor regional featured one of the more noteworthy upsets of the opening weekend of the NCAA softball tournament. Fortunately for Michigan, it didn’t happen to us. The Maize & Blue marched through the regional with relative ease, not quite hitting on all cylinders, but never seriously threatened either. Before looking ahead to the upcoming super-regional showdown with the Missouri Tigers, let’s take a quick look back at how Michigan became one of 16 teams in the nation lucky enough to go to practice this week.
The Wolverines started the weekend off against a Valparaiso team still trying to figure out just how they found their way into the tournament in the first place. With a record well below .500, the Horizon League tournament champions were one of the strangest sights in regional play in years. Michigan didn’t wait long to get on the board, with senior super-star Sierra Romero lining what’s known in Ann Arbor as a “Rom-Bomb” over the wall in the first inning. In addition to giving Michigan an early lead, the solo shot gave Romero her 300th career RBI. The Wolverines added a couple more in the 2nd, but were not able to fully solve Valpo’s pitching until the 5th inning, when all Hell broke loose. 5 singles earned Michigan 3 runs and brought about a pitching change. The change didn’t help, as the relief pitcher walked the next three batters on only 14 pitches to drive in the game-ending runs. Megan Betsa was majestic in the circle, ceding just one hit and one walk while piling up 9 Ks in the 8-0 run-rule walkover.
On Saturday, Michigan was expecting a tougher challenge, and they got one from an unexpected source. Instead of the presumptive challenger Notre Dame, the Maize & Blue had to square off against Miami (NTM), who had upset the Irish with a controversial 3-2 win on Friday. Betsa was again phenomenal, but the story of the early part of the game was Redhawks hurler Amber Logemann, who didn’t allow a hit until the 4th inning. In the 4th, though, Michigan showed a tendency familiar to anyone who watched the 2015 NCAA tournament. A good pitcher can get through Michigan’s order once, maybe twice. After that, though, the offense starts to lock in on tendencies & weaknesses, and the runs can come in bunches. 2 runs in the 4th led to 4 more in the 6th, and Michigan finally had the breathing room they wanted. Hutch took advantage of the extra cushion, resting ace Megan Betsa for the rest of the game. After a wobbly start put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Driesenga retired the next 6 batters she faced on 6 consecutive ground-outs, securing a 6-0 win.
To no one’s surprise, the Irish shook off their Friday funk and emerged from the losers’ bracket to face Michigan in the regional final on Sunday. The Irish have seen their season end in Ann Arbor again and again in recent years, and would need to take 2 in a row from #2 Michigan to avoid the same fate in 2016. Sierra Romero sent a message early on that the “luck of the Irish” wasn’t going to apply in Ann Arbor, getting her money’s worth on her 300th career hit, launching a first-inning long ball for the 2nd time on the weekend (the blast was also good for her 299th career run scored, extending her own NCAA record). Another Sierra home run, this one from Sierra Lawrence, put Michigan up 2-0, but an unexpected blast from Irish lead-off hitter Karley Wester trimmed the lead back down to 1. Again it took a few innings for Michigan’s bats to acquire target-lock, but when the Irish gifted Romero 1st base on an error to start the 5th, the Wolverines were determined to take advantage. A bunt single & a walk loaded the bases, and singles from Aidan Falk and Lindsay Montemarano stretched the lead to 6-1. The Irish would get one back in the 6th, but never seriously threatened to catch up to the heavy favorites.
On the weekend, Michigan outscored their opponents a combined 20-2. On a historical note, Sierra Romero joined the extremely exclusive 300/300 club (hits & RBIs), and moved to just one run away from creating an entirely new 300/300/300 club (hits, RBIs, & runs-scored). For a team of Michigan’s caliber, the victories were expected, and celebrations were moderate compared to scenes around the country. The Wolverines will not be satisfied with anything less than a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, and they know that just one team stands between them and that goal.
[Hit THE JUMP for a Super-regional preview]
Michigan can't afford to lose their best back you say? [Upchurch]
Following a good laugh over one of those offseason #content lists where they name random skill position players at recognizable schools, we thought maybe a real answer might be good for, you know, an offseason #content list. So:
So who IS Michigan's most irreplaceable starter?*
David: In most years, I think there would be a few clear-cut, shining star answers. And while Michigan’s ceiling would not be as high without some of its premiere talent, I’m not sure those particular players are the most irreplaceable. Let’s try a Top 3, this time…
1. Mason Cole. He’s played LT for 2 years and has done a very solid job despite not being ideally-sized for that position. Now, it appears he will be starting at center, which just tells you how much smart of a player he is. Michigan basically has four proven OL starters, one highly-rated probably starter, and a couple of depth guys that no one really knows how they’ll turn out. Losing Cole would mean that everyone more-or-less has to be a hit in their respective positions. That COULD happen…but will it? Ehhhhh…I don’t know. Losing anyone else on the OL and Cole can move if it would allow M to put its best five on the field.
2. John O’Korn. Ok, this miiiiiiight be a reach, but I’m going off of some potential and I get to be the guy on the staff that goes rogue sometimes. I do think that JOK has the highest ceiling on the team in a position that does not quite have the depth…yet. I think we still need one more season of injury-luck in this department before the options absolutely explode. There is still some uncertainty with him, obviously, but he’s shown the physical [in]tangibles to have some backing for what he can do…in addition to belief in QB development under Harbaugh. Plus, like mobility, etc. Perhaps Speight would be adequate –or even successful- enough, but I’m personally not sold, yet.
3. Jabrill Peppers. I’ve been arguing with a buddy about this spot for a while, now. What it came down to for me is that Peppers is the backup everything on this team. I actually believe if he had to play guard or weak-side end for a couple plays, he would hold his own. Seriously though, in addition to Peppers playing his 5 positions on the field where you know he’ll line up and be awesome, he could potentially take over a starting role at 3-4 of them and there would be very little drop off from the nominal starter. On most teams, Peppers would be the cornerstone of any defense. And while he is certainly important, this defense is SO deep that he do almost whatever is needed and not be depended on to do one certain responsibility…in addition to being to handle most single-position responsibilities. Get it?
[After the JUMP: offseason #content, plus Rashan Gary's hudl highlights are embedded again]