Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
Today, I'm reminded of a story.
It was during that  southern trek that he watched a University of Georgia baserunner try to score from second base on a single to center when a strong throw home seemed to beat the runner. When the umpire yelled “safe,” Michigan catcher Goodloe Rogers spun about and hit the umpire while players swarmed onto the field.
“Rogers was always getting into fights,” said Rickey later, in barely concealed glee. “I never could find out whether or not he started them, but he was always involved. We were down playing Georgia. I was on crutches as a result of a broken leg [a batted ball in practice had fractured a small bone in his foot]. Well, as usual, a fight started around home plate, and I hobbled off the bench and must have prodded several players with my crutches.”
Rogers, the team’s colorful, zany, and angry man - the sort of person Rickey always loved to have on his ball clubs - watched his coach in action.
“When the brawl was over, there lay B.R. flat on his back near home plate, his leg in a cast sticking straight up in the air. On of his crutches was found in the Georgia dugout. The other was in the stands.”
That came from an biography of Branch Rickey. It's been a rough year as a Michigan sports fan. Sure, volleyball was fun, but the last year has been one disappointment after another in the big sports that most of hang on to dearly.
Last year's opening day post at Varsity Blue came in a much different time. It had been a mild winter, and spring had already been starting to crack through to end the dreary season. Michigan was coming off 3 straight BigTen regular season titles. There was a warm feeling all around.
Every Opening Day, I have this tradition. I pray -- hard. One prayer for each loss in the previous season. It usually takes all day. But I think it's working. - Royals fan "Troy" in Liberty, Mo.
This year was something a little bit different. The Michigan athletics curse of 2009-2010 began to creep. After a dominant start in the BigEast/BigTen Challenge, Michigan started to struggle. Pitchers fatigued, players were injured, and ugly losses began to rear their head.
It ended up being a tough year, but as the saying goes, hope springs eternal. This spring is no different. Michigan has reloaded with the #18 overall recruiting class in the country, something nearly unheard of for a Northern program. The Wolverines return all but one major contributor to the 2009's best Big Ten pitching staff. Several key players have an extra year's experience.
This year we're hungry. Last season was a bad call by some crack-pot, home-cooking umpire from Georgia in 1912. This season is a fight for respect. Michigan is back at full health and they've got no other use for these crutches. Michigan is coming out swinging.
Weekend preview after the jump.
In Beilein's best season at WVU they played themselves into the tourney going 7-3 to close reg season then made BE final. Just sayin'...
The insinuation, of course, is that it may be possible for this Michigan team to make a similar run to sneak into the NCAA tournament themselves. Although Dylan himself isn't exactly sold on that idea, let's look at what this Michigan team has in common with those Mountaineers.
West Virginia 2005
The Mountaineers, led by Mike Gansey, Tyrone Sally, and Kevin Pittsnogle (pictured at right), finished the regular season with an 18-9 record, 8-8 in the Big East. They won 7 of their final 10 regular season games. In the Big East Tournament, they were the #8 seed, and ran through #9 Providence, #1 Boston College, and #4 Villanova before falling to Syracuse in the tournament final. They were 21-10 going into the NCAA tournament. They were awarded a #7 seed in the West Regional, and managed to make the Elite Eight, where they lost to Louisville in overtime.
For the sake of prediction we'll go with Ken Pomeroy's projections over the final five games. Kenpom gives Michigan wins over Penn State, Illinois, and Minnesota at home and road losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.
In that scenario, the Wolverines would finish the regular season with a 16-14 record, 9-9 in the Big Ten. They would have won 6 of their final 10 regular season games. They would be about the #7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, facing off against #10 Iowa (the same 7/10 matchup as in last season's Big Ten Tournament). To reach the tournament final, they would have to beat Iowa, then the #2 seed (still up in the air at this point, but Ohio State if the season ended today), and the #3 or #6 seed (Purdue or Northwestern, respectively, if the season ended today). Falling in the tournament final, they would finish with a 19-15 record going into tournament selection.
Though both teams would end their season on a run of sorts, the "Last 10" metric for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is not available this season. Michigan's theoretical 6-4 mark over the final 10 regular season games (plus a 3-1 record in the Big Ten Tournament) probably wouldn't be the most impressive mark, anyway.
A key difference between the teams is their respective overall records. Though both would finish with a .500 mark in conference, the Mountaineers only dropped one game to a non-big East team, though it was a terrible Marshall squad. Michigan, on the other hand, struggled mightily outside the league. They've lost to Marquette, Alabama, Boston College, Utah, and Kansas.
jamiemac of Just Cover and the MGoPodcast points out that a strong close to the regular season would give the Wolverines a similar resume to the 2000 Wisconsin Badgers, who finished the season 16-12, but nabbed an 8-seed based on a strong run to end the year, and ended up making the Final Four. Of course, this Michigan team is almost certainly not Final Four material, but getting into the tournament is possible.
Can it be Done?
Michigan would need to finish the year much stronger than West Virginia did if they want to get into the NCAA Tournament. Like I've been saying for quite some time, the NIT is a much more realistic goal at this point. However, it's actually not impossible for the Wolverines to make the Big Dance. It's just a tall, tall task, especially for a team that has struggled with consistency through the entire year and doesn't seem to be making a final push. Edging by Iowa in overtime does not inspire confidence.
The most obvious way for Michigan to make the NCAA tournament is to win the Big Ten Tournament and get the conference's automatic bid. That requires a hot streak, of course, but the rest of the regular season won't play as big a role (of course, the better the record in the regular season, the higher the seed in the B10 Tourney, and the easier the path to a tournament championship). 3-point shooting teams always have a chance in single-elimination format, as long as they get hot from the field.
Without crunching any numbers, Michigan's only other likely chance to get into the NCAA tournament is to lose only one of the road games left (though a road win over Ohio State or Michigan State is highly unlikely), and make it to the tournament final. That would give them a winning record in the conference, with a 17-13 regular season mark. Adding the 3 victories from the Big Ten tournament would give a 20-14 record, with a number of quality wins at the end of the year. Sweeping the regular season games and making it to the tournament final would make the Wolverines a near-lock for the tournament, at 21-13 and an 11-7 mark in the Big Ten.
HOWEVA, all of these scenarios are pipe dreams. The realistic best-case scenario for the Wolverines is to go 3-2 to close out the regular season, take a victory or two in the Big Ten Tournament, and finish their year with a strong run in the NIT.
Captain Renault. So let's say you're an unemployed Cleveland man who spends two months constructing an igloo instead of, you know, attempting to find a job. What would be totally bitchin' for the wall of your igloo?
Score one for baseless internet speculation. According to Greg Banks, the internet-wide speculation about a Ryan Van Bergen position move is on the nose:
Banks is one of a half dozen or so Wolverines who’ll play an expanded and slightly different role on Michigan’s defensive front this fall.
He said he expects Ryan Van Bergen to take over Graham’s pass-rushing defensive end spot - “I think that’s the plan,” he said - while he plays both end and tackle.
Birkett follows that up with an assertion that Mike Martin "could see time outside" if Will Campbell progresses. I assume that means three-tech DT, not defensive end, because that latter would be plain nuts. To reiterate: the move is the best bet for Michigan to have an excellent defensive line next year. RVB isn't going to be Brandon Graham but he's far better than the alternatives and moving Mike Martin to three-tech will get him one-on-one with guards he's faster than, potentially paving the way for a ton of TFLs. He'll be more effective there, and NT should be decent with the Sagesse/Campbell platoon.
For his part, Banks is up to 278 pounds, 15 or so up from last year. LaLota also comes in for some praise, but I'm betting serious playing time for him is another year off.
Vincent Smith, meanwhile, is already jogging and should have no problems returning in time for fall practice.
And then they do nothing. Internet speculation has gone from "maybe the Big Ten will add Pitt" to "in ten years only four conferences will exist and football will be played by sexy robots." I'm not sure whether this Barking Carnival post positing a 14-team Big Ten, here previously deemed completely infeasible and then met with a crazy semi-relegation proposal*, is genius or mad. Or possibly both. Check the rationale here:
Powers knows that the Big 10 universities compete individually and as a region for its fair share of the federal R&D pie and that, despite the greatness of its member universities, the Big 10 region has not faired nearly as well as the coasts. Compared to numerous universities in California and Massachusetts, several of which don’t give a second thought about college football (MIT, Cal-Davis, Cal Tech, U of San Francisco, etc), there is a rather dramatic concentration of academic R&D that is not favorable to the Midwest or Southwest. Point being, there is room for growth here, and adding two powerful Senators from Texas to the sixteen Senators representing Big 10 states is not an insignificant addition. Without Texas, the CIC universities represent the best of the rust belt. With Texas, the CIC represents the best of the middle of the country.
Wha? I'm not sure how much I buy the idea that heartland universities will have a bigger lobbying block if they're all in the same conference. The CIC happens to have all Big Ten schools and Chicago, but is it really necessary to bring along Texas's athletic programs—not like that would exactly be a downside, though—to invite them to join the CIC? It's not like the Big 12 has any leverage over the Longhorns.
Elsewhere, 14 teams i the new 11 teams. and people are coalescing around a 16-team uber conference that comes with NCAA secession. Andy Staples's version may or may not be sarcastic, but I've seen plenty of other speculation to that effect. Most of it is Bleacher Report quality and not worth linking or anything, but it's out there.
To reiterate my previously expressed stance: a college football "conference" that has more than 12 teams isn't really a conference unless it adds promotion and relegation. Static divisions are separate conferences with a weird scheduling agreement and a wildly unbalanced schedule. It would be logistically terrible.
At this point it would be fantastic if no one did anything. Too bad Tradesports imploded.
BONUS. I don't remember where I saw this, but I believe it was some random message board: if the Big Ten comes down from on high with an end result that seriously damages the Big East, isn't the Big East's best move booting Notre Dame in an attempt to force the Irish into the Big Ten? If ND was cut loose by the Big East all their other sports (save hockey) would be adrift with basically nowhere to go. At that point ND might have to swallow hard and join up.
*(Which a commenter pointed out is mathematically impossible for the same reason you can't play nine conference games in an eleven-team conference. Shame.)
Etc.: Help this pickle get more fans than Nickelback. The second half of the recruiting podcast in which I do my best Mel Kiper. Michigan's putting on a camp thing on the 28th at Newsterbaan, plugging the presence of Rivals and Scout. Seems like a clever move to get an early camp experience, maybe unearth an instate prospect or three.
The 2011 Michigan Football Recruiting Board lives here.
Junior Day & other Tales of Visits Future
Michigan's previous Junior Day this winter was fruitful, netting the commitment of MI CB Delonte Hollowell (pictured at right). The Wolverines will have their second such event this weekend, inviting a number of juniors to campus to take in the cripplefight between the Michigan and Penn State basketball teams.
OH WR AJ Jordan (from the Trotwood-Madison pipeline) will be there.
OH DT Kevin Williams will (probably) be there, and it sounds like he might be a slight M lean.
MI OL Anthony Zettel was planning to be there, though Tom has downgraded him to a maybe.
Tom posted a diary about some of the kids who have told him they will (or won't, for some) be around:
- OH TE Ray Hamilton - His father played at WVU with Rodriguez. ThaRinger.com recently spoke with Hamilton. Michigan is mentioned only briefly.
- MI DE Brennen Beyer - Is he on commitment watch?
- MD DT Vincent Croce - Coming in from Maryland shows a lot of interest.
- OH LB Percy Johnson - Recently moved to Ohio from Madison Heights. We haven't offered yet, and most schools are waiting on his ACT scores. He told Tom "I'm a loyalist, and that's the Big House, so you know." Highlight video.
- MI RB/WR Valdez Showers.
- OH DE Robert Mincey - Told Tom that Michigan is his leader. He doesn't have an offer yet, though.
- OH LB Trey Depriest - It's now looking like he probably won't make it.
- FL RB Demetrius Hart, S HaSean Clinton-Dix, and S/LB LaQuentin Smith - They've been trying to make it in for a while. Will they finally get to Ann Arbor?
- MI WR DeAnthony Arnett - Might miss it for basketball.
- MI CB Ryan Griffin - He said he thinks he'll be there, but is checking his schedule to make sure.
- OH TE Jamare Mills - He was invited, but he told Tom he can't make it. He did tell Tom that Michigan is one of his favorites right now.
Josh Helmholdt gives a couple other maybes in the Free Press: OH CB Doran Grant and (big surprise if he makes it in) MI LB Lawrence Thomas. Sam Webb talked to Grant for a Detroit News article. Michigan's chance sounds low, due to family connections to MSU, OSU, and Notre Dame. Thomas did take a visit this week, FWIW.
Moving on to the "Other Tales of Visits Future" portion, there's a promising sign for the Wolverines' recruitment of AZ OL Christian Westerman:
On April 27, the Westermans are planning to attend Michigan's spring game. There they will likely catch up with former Scottsdale Chaparral linemen Craig Roh and Taylor Lewan.
I assume that article should say "On April 17," because that's the, you know, actual date of the spring game. Westerman is one of 36 offensive linemen on the 2011 Rivals250 to Watch, and the #2 tackle and a 5-star to Scout.
VA LB Curtis Grant plans to visit Ann Arbor ($, info in header) at some point.
According to UMGoBlog Michigan sent an offer to OH QB Cardale Jones. Of Glenville, so… yeah. Michigan might actually have a shot here if Jones is set on quarterback and Ohio State is set on Braxton Miller, but it's Glenville.
Michigan has offered TX RB Jarrell Oliver, a former teammate of Wolverines Troy Woolfolk, Darryl Stonum, and Troy Woolfolk at Dulles High School. That school is also the home of S Sheroid Evans, one of the top safeties in the class of 2011. Evans attended Texas's junior day over the weekend, where he committed. I'll leave him on the board until we hear a little bit more about Michigan's intentions with Oliver, and whether it will be possible to shake him loose from the 'Horns.
The Wolverines have offered GA ATH Quan Bray (pictured at right), though they'll have to fight with a who's-who of top programs if they want to secure his commitment. He plans to take a bunch of visits before deciding:
Wiggins doesn't want to speculate on which school might be Bray's favorite at this point in the recruiting process. It is, as he hinted at, still early. Bray, he said, will take some visits and attend some camps, but it won't be anytime soon. Basketball and track are occupying much of his free time now.
If Michigan can get him onto campus for a visit or, better yet, for summer camp, they'll have a chance to land Quan.
Michigan has offered a trio of outside wide receivers lately: PA WR Dondi Kirby is holding a Michigan offer. He has also been offered by Maryland, and I've added him to the board. OH WR Devin Smith, from Massillon Washington High School (Shawn Crable, Justin Turner) has received a Michigan offer. CA WR George Farmer, one of the nation's top wideout prospects, has been offered by Michigan.
Michigan has tendered an offer to SC OL Brandon Shell, joining an impressive group that includes USC (Yes That USC), Florida, and Alabama. Shell's the nephew of Art Shell, and it sounds like he will be a bigtime prospect.
Michigan offered ($, info in header) TX OL Kourtlandt Akins. He also plays on defense, but it's not yet known which position the Wolverines want him to play. Akins is a lifelong Michigan fan and is a guy to keep an eye on moreso than your average Texas offeree.
FL S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is holding a Michigan offer, along with scholarships from the likes of Florida and Alabama. The Tide is the presumed favorite, but if Michigan manages to land a commitment from Hart, Clinton-Dix is likely to take a closer look. As noted above, Clinton-Dix may be in attendance this weekend. The Orlando Sentinel profiled him.
Recruiting Grab Bag
The Wolverines have been showing interest in FL QB Kevin Sousa. He's a good student, and is thinking about becoming an engineering major at the school of his choice. Local fluff on Sousa, who I've added to the recruiting board.
Michigan dropped in on FL LB Kent Turene just before Signing Day, and it sounds like the interest is strong on both sides, as he told mgoblog's own TomVH:
[Former teammate Demar Dorsey] was telling me that if they offer I should go up there, and play with him. We’ll see. He was telling me about the stadium, the facilities, and the coaches. He really likes the coaches. I’ve thought about it, I think I’d like to go to Michigan. I would like to play with Demar. I had a great time playing with him, and he’s a great teammate. So, yeah that helps.
The Wolverines haven't offered yet, but it sounds like there's a good chance he could end up in blue if they push for a commitment from him.
MD OL Donovan Smith has been hearing from Michigan, though the Wolverines have yet to offer. He plans to take his time making a final college decision.
Local fluff on MI RB Justice Hayes. He'll be one of the top prospects in the state. Keep in mind, however, that he grew up a Spartans fan, and he's being mentored through the recruiting process by Alabama RB Mark Ingram.
Rankings, Rankings, Rankings
As I mentioned in Sunday's Big Ten Recruiting Class Rankings, Rivals, Scout, and ESPN all have watch lists or top recruit lists of some sort available. There are too many Michigan prospects to run down all of their rankings, but take a loo if you're interested. Current Michigan commits are CBs Delonte Hollwell (Top 250 Rivals, 3* Scout, 150 Watchlist ESPN) and Greg Brown (Not ranked Rivals or Scout, 150 Watchlist ESPN).
Duane Long broke down the game of a couple linebackers of interest for Michigan fans:
Trey DePriest: I remember thinking that this is not a kid who is going to make up for losing [2010 LB Jordan] Hicks. I still rate Hicks the better player but the film I have seen from DePriest's junior year shows me a player that at least belongs in the conversation. I see a player who is just as good at blitzing as Hicks, and that is saying something. Some linebackers just have the timing down. I see a player who reads the game so well and he has become a really strong tackler. I give Hicks the edge now. At the rate DePriest is improving that might change.
What a beast Lawrence Thomas is. He is huge but very lean at 6-4 and 230. He has a reported 4.6 forty... His game speed is most important and there is no question about that. His read and react, are top drawer. He has the ability that I call "ghost", which is the uncanny ability that some linebackers have to keep themselves clean of blockers. So often blockers are not getting a hand on him. He has only a couple of negatives. He has too many arm tackles and too much drag down tackling... The other negative is the size. He is a really big kid and might grow into a DE.
He ranks them even with each other, and GA LB James Vaughters, who does not have Michigan interest to the best of my knowledge.
The Orlando Sentinel has its early top 100 list for the state of Florida. A number of possible Michigan targets are included.
At the Army Combine, MI CB Commit Delonte Hollowell and MI RB Justice Hayes were named to the All-combine team.
Michigan 80 Iowa 78 (OT), MIchigan 13-12 (6-7 Big Ten)
It wasn't pretty, but at this point in the season it would be improper to take any win for granted, right? If Michigan was in position to grab an NCAA tournament bid, this would have been a scary game. However, the Wolverines are closer to missing the NIT than they are to making the Big Dance. Let's just enjoy the win.
After steady improvement throughout the month of January and the beginning of February, it's clear that Michigan's defense is not at a level that will win basketball games when the offense isn't working right. Like Wisconsin and Northwestern before them, the Hawkeyes shot the ball well, finishing with a 55 eFG%. Had Michigan not matched that number in one of their better shooting performances of the year, this game could have gotten ugly. Michigan opened up a 10-point lead late in the first half, but let Iowa claw back to tie it up by the break. Play was much more back-and-forth in the second half, but Iowa led by five with only 22 seconds to go, before Michigan managed to force overtime.
There were some bright points. On top of the newly-found shooting competence, this team actually showed some heart for the first time in quite a while, gutting out a win when it looked like all hope was lost. If they'd been able to do that a couple more times this year, maybe we'd be talking NCAA Tournament fringe instead of NIT fringe. A number of players stepped up that one probably wouldn't expect (primarily Laval Lucas-Perry), and seven whole players got double-digit minutes!
- Rough game for Manny Harris despite decent numbers on the scoresheet. He had six turnovers, and nearly fouled out. A couple of his fouls were borderline calls, but they were also plays he should be smart enough not to make. He shot just 7 of 17.
- DeShawn Sims, as we've come to expect, was this team's leader. He struggled making some layups through contact, otherwise he would have had a stellar outing. Very interesting for Beilein to (finally, in the eyes of some) play him with Gibson.
- Darius Morris was super-quiet. Two assists, three missed shots, and two personal fouls isn't a statline that shows off how much he's improved over the course of the year. He still needs lots of work on his shot, but this game wasn't as big a step backwards as it might seem.
- If we're criticizing LLP for being invisible most of the time, let's also give him props when he shows up to play. His 3/3 shooting from behind the arc to start the game got the offense moving, and though he didn't do a whole lot after that, he was the catalyst for Michigan's big run.
- Man, the Big Ten Network presentation was awful. We constantly got shots of the lights or the back of someone's head instead of, you know, the game. We got about 10 seconds of ridiculously loud music, presumably off someone's iPod in the production truck (I kid). The commentary was often too quiet to hear, but it doesn't matter, because the announcers had no interest in talking about the game. The Big Ten Network doesn't have a great reputation to begin with, and it's painfully clear that they have no interest in correcting that.
- [Editor's note: anyone else notice Jim Jackson's somewhat disturbing morph into Hubie Brown? I heard "blank is the best blank we have have in our league" a dozen times.
- It's nice to see Stu Douglass and Zack Novak find something of a shooting stroke. Both only shot 3-pointers, but if they can continue shooting well, Michigan might be able to surprise a team at the end of the year, and get some confidence for the future.
- Michigan still has a chance to go on a bit of a run here, with Ken Pomeroy favoring them to win three of the last five, including the next two. Dylan is hinting that Michigan is capable of sneaking into the tournament, but I wouldn't get so far ahead of ourselves quite yet.
- Getting back to the officiating for a second, I think Oops Pow Surprise said it best:
We're not stupid enough to think that Hightower and Valentine were somehow actively conspiring against Iowa; not only is Michigan plainly unworthy of a conspiratorial effort (see: not a tournament team), but that theory would require the supposition that the two men are actually capable of calling a good game and just choose not to. That's a fantasy.
Further, it's not the case that all the calls went against Iowa for the balance of the game. There were several calls that seemed to be a whistle just blown at random, and a good amount of them were in Iowa's favor. This is what happens in a Hightower/Valentine game.
Bad officiating is frustrating for all, even when it's not heavily slanted in one direction or another
[Editor's note: UMHoops pointed this out about the refereeing: DeShawn Sims says he complained to the refs about his game-tying three and the ref said he would have called a foul if he had missed, which just goes to show that every conspiracy theory you've ever had about basketball refereeing is true. Bastards.]
Did Anthony Wright get in a bar fight or something? Beilein:
“The facts are, over the last day, I believe that Anthony had done nothing wrong to what the facts that were presented to me,” Beilein said. “If the facts change, then I will make appropriate action. But the facts are the facts that we discussed.”
People, don't punch Ant Wright please.
The Nittany Lions of Penn State travel to Crisler Arena Saturday, looking to win their first game in the Big Ten this year(!). This is a good opportunity for the Wolverines to get a win against a pretty bad team, and it's also a football junior day (about which more in Wednesday Recruitin'), so let's get this team some fan support to close out the year.
I'll be embarking on a project similar to last year's recruit profiles in the near future, but that effort will last into the summer—the final profile last year (Tate Forcier) didn't go up until June 25th—and some words about how Michigan did will be far less timely then.
The other side of the ball was examined last week.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
We'll throw quick end in here, too, and why not? Seemingly half the defensive recruits in the class said they were recruited to play the spot. Michigan has plenty of needs elsewhere so this intrepid reporter is going to put Jordan Paskorz, and only Jordan Paskorz, here. Antonio Kinard and Davion Rogers will be filed as linebackers; Ken Wilkins is already pushing 250 and will be filed as a strongside defensive end.
On Paskorz: he is a generic three star to the world, a guy who gets 5.6 on the Rivals scale—5.7 is a high three star, 5.6 a middling one—and had offers that reflected that. Michigan's main competitors were Pitt and Virginia. He won't have to play much until he's a redshirt sophomore—that's when when Craig Roh backup Brandon Herron graduates—and we're unlikely to see him until then.
The strongside guys have a bit more to recommend them. Jibreel Black (right)and Ken Wilkins are 4/3 star tweeners (e.g., one of Scout or Rivals has them at four, the other at three). Wilkins hails from the same high school that Ohio State recruit Andrew Sweat and Penn State recruit Mike Yancich attended, and his coach believes he's more athletic than either:
"He is an unbelievable physical talent," Dalton said. "And he is only going to get better. I have had some great players here, but nothing like Ken physically. I am not saying he is going to be better than Yancich and Sweat, but he is the most physically talented player I've had."
Black, meanwhile, was a guy Michigan was hot after all year but could never get on campus until late January. By then he'd already committed to Indiana (where his brother had an excellent season) and Cincinnati (which is approximately three minutes from home). He's got the same body type as Brandon Graham, albeit without most of his hype. The insider-type folk say, and Michigan's dogged pursuit implies, that whatever the guru folk thought Michigan wanted Black badly.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B+. They got about the right number of bodies to fill out two thin spots on defense and I like the long term potential of both strongside guys. A blue-chip would have been nice.
Impact This Year?
Hopefully little, but given the depth chart at SDE it seems like either Black or Wilkins will have to burn a redshirt as a backup unless Anthony LaLota got a lot bigger during his redshirt year.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
Michigan missed out on a true nose when Jonathan Hankins picked Ohio State. They did grab two promising three-tech recruits in Terry Talbott and Pahokee's Richard Ash. Both have size issues: Talbott is currently around 240 and is a guy some observers thought would end up at defensive end. According to Rod Smith, Ash is now over 300 pounds; given his recruitment that seems more like a problem to be fixed than a solution to Michigan's nose tackle issue. Teams backed away from Ash when he showed up to Florida's camp overweight.
On the other hand, both have talent. Talbott almost defected to North Carolina late; when Tim went down to catch a Wayne game this fall he was a wrecking ball in the backfield. He's an excellent, disruptive fit for the penetrating defensive tackle spot he's slated for. The teams backing away from Ash after his weight issues, meanwhile, were USC and Florida. Ash has upside for Barwis to extract, and he's got a host of Pahokee folk up here to help him adjust. If he puts in the work, Michigan will have a guy who could play for Florida's defensive line.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B-. No nose tackle is a downer. Michigan will have one guy there next year if Mike Martin moves unless Ash can actually handle that weight. Outside of that, though, both recruits seem like they might be underrated.
Impact This Year?
Assuming the RVB move, Michigan will have a veteran two-deep at defensive tackle but Talbott and Ash will be next in line after that. If there's an injury, one or both might be pressed to play. I imagine Michigan will try to redshirt both; they might not be able to.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
A late flurry of offers and a little snake oil turned this position group from a gaping sore into… well, a considerably less gaping sore. Late additions Davion Rogers and Jake Ryan are just three star sorts, but given Michigan's situation before they hopped aboard they're welcome. Rogers is a 6'6" birdman of a linebacker/DE prospect who everyone, including me, will compare to Shawn Crable. Michigan pirated him away from WVU once Doc Holliday left. Early in his career he'll probably play the weakside linebacker spot occupied by Jonas Mouton currently; if he puts on enough weight we'll see him at quick.
Ryan popped up late after an Omameh-like senior year where he grew two inches and twenty pounds and outplayed Ohio State commit, teammate, and fellow linebacker Scott McVey en route to a state championship. McVey was playing with a busted shoulder, FWIW, but Ryan is a heady kid who actually played linebacker in high school—a rarity for Michigan of late—and is at least a reasonable prospect to start in a year or two.
A couple players may end up at spinner, the strongside linebacker/safety position last occupied by Stevie Brown, but for right now the only guy in the class this blog places at the spot is uber-athlete Josh Furman, AKA Dhani Jones 2.0. Furman was a ridiculously productive safety and tailback in high school who hit camps and dropped electronically timed 4.3 40s. Scout thinks he's awesome; Rivals again goes "meh." He's clearly got a ton of upside.
Antonio Kinard got a super-early offer and committed to it, but did little during his senior season to assuage concerns he was an iffy bet. He, too, might end up at quick but will be filed a linebacker for the moment.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
C-. The late pickups salvaged this grade but the emphasis is on "salvage." The only inside linebacker Michigan picked up in the last class was Isaiah Bell and the guys in the class before that are gone (Witherspoon and Hill), seemingly locked into special teams forever (Demens), and JB Fitzgerald. Michigan needed numbers here, and they ended up with numbers, but they also needed a blue chip or two and they did not get one. Furman is a recruit you can get excited about, but that's 1/4.
Impact This Year?
Redshirts for everyone, in all likelihood, except possibly Furman. Even Furman will have to beat out two guys with almost two years of experience in fall camp if he's going to win a job.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
Michigan will bolster its roster with four cornerbacks this fall. They come in two flavors. Flavor one consists of short three-stars from Ohio. They are Courtney Avery and Terrance Talbott. Avery was a prolific, tiny high school quarterback who only moonlighted on defense. He made first team All-Ohio and chose Michigan over a Stanford decommit not because of grades but because he wanted to stay closer to home. Talbott is the other Talbott's brother and struggled through injuries most of his senior year but has received positive reviews from local observers. There's some reason for optimism on both.
Cullen Christian needs no ball security
Flavor two consists of blue-chips anyone and everyone wanted who held preposterously long press conferences. Cullen Christian is the #3 corner to Scout and in the Rivals 100; he picked Michigan over Ohio State and many others after a long period of favoring Michigan. 6'1" and physical, Christian's YMRMFSPA is a holy lock to be Marlin Jackson. Demar Dorsey you may have heard about. He picked Michigan over Florida State and USC after being a Florida commit for over a year. He's the #12 player overall to ESPN and a four-star to the other sites.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
A. Four players, two of them blue-chips, at a position of crying need.
Impact This Year?
One of these kids is guaranteed to play unless JT Floyd takes a huge leap forward. A second is likely to find his way into a nickel package. If one of them is really good right away, you could see him start immediately and Troy Woolfolk move to safety. Michigan will probably redshirt one; the other three will have to play.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
We'll put Marvin Robinson (OMG HALFSHIRT) here because he's likely to play the box safety* we've been discussing extensively. Robinson is the defense's Ricardo Miller, a hyped-to-the-moon Florida prospect who seemed likely to be a five-star (or thereabouts) only to experience a precipitous drop in ranking. Robinson's drop came after a few camps he participated in. In the aftermath, Rivals gurus trashed his coverage ability and said he was a linebacker and nothing else. He still held on to a fourth star, though, and fielded offers from Ohio State and several other power programs before going with the Michigan program that had led for him seemingly forever.
The class rounds out with two sleeper-type prospects. I'm considerably more bullish on Carvin Johnson, who apparently avoided the combine circuit entirely this summer, was the best player on his team, and prompted an unsolicited email of praise from local coach (not his) when this site's initial take on him was "meh." He also won the MVP award in a state championship game his team lost by a billion points. Late LSU interest was not reciprocated.
Ray Vinopal is the kind of recruit that everyone on the internet hates on, prompting articles in which he declares a desire to prove everyone wrong and press conferences where Rich Rodriguez justifies signing the guy. The internet is not necessarily wrong, though. At the time of his commitment Vinopal was a who-dat with no recruiting profile despite his presence in Ohio power Cardinal Mooney's secondary. He apparently picked up a couple of good offers late (Wisconsin was the biggest) but the heuristics indicate a marginal contributor.
*(MGoBlog is officially adopting "box" and "deep" as its chosen lingo for Michigan safeties in what appears to be a permanent 4-4 front similar to that Virginia Tech runs. The way Michigan aligns apparently does make the deep guy the "strong" safety but since that goes against the popular conception of free and strong, it's confusing.)
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B-. One blue chip is nice and Carvin Johnson seems like the good kind of sleeper. Would have liked a true deep safety with more than two stars, but one of the cornerbacks could move back once the
Impact This Year?
If Robinson had managed to enroll early, as planned, we'd be anxiously observing him in the hopes he could lock down that box safety spot in spring. Things did not go to plan and we'll be anxiously waiting on his arrival instead. Even so, Robinson's main competition at the position he's slated for consists of a walk-on and a converted wide receiver. I don't think he'll start right away but Michigan isn't going to be able to redshirt him and he may find his way into the lineup by midseason.
Johnson and Vinopal are likely redshirts.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
With Zoltan the Inconceivable exiting to a long and lucrative NFL career, Michigan needed a replacement. They took a pass on in-state punter and reputed Michigan fan Mike Sadler, who ended up at State, to chase WI P Will Hagerup, who had offers from all over the country and was the highest-rated punter at Rivals. (He's the #4 K but the specialists in front of him are all placekickers.) After a few visits, Hagerup picked Michigan and its wide open job over Wisconsin, Ohio State, and others.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
A. Hagerup is either the country's top punter or in the top three to all ranking services.
Impact This Year?
Unless Michigan's offense is so awesome it never punts, Hagerup will be deployed this fall.
All Things Collected And Told
Numbers. That's the most important thing this class brings. Even if there are twice as many sleeper types as you'd like to see in an average Michigan class, getting two guys for every spot on the defense minus a few here and there puts Michigan in a position where the first guy off the bench when a starter gets dinged isn't a walk-on. He'll be a freshman, probably. But you can't recruit juniors.
And it's not all sleeper sorts. Michigan picked up two touted corners with blue chip offers, grabbed a linebacker from Virginia Tech, locked down Marvin Robinson's abs, and grabbed a collection of defensive linemen with considerable upside. It's a below average class, but it's not that far off. And given the context, it's fairly good.
A preposterously early letter grade: B+. For the class as a whole: B.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Iowa|
|WHERE||Iowa City, IA|
|WHEN||9:00PM EST (8 Local)
February 16th, 2010
|THE LINE||Michigan -4*|
|TELEVISION||Big Ten Network|
*Line provided by online sports betting site Sportsbetting.com.
When Last We Met
In one of the least thrilling games I've seen in Crisler Arena, Michigan kept its foot on the neck of the Hawkeyes for just long enough to show that they could win by blowout if they tried. After that point, they decided to stop trying, putting in a half-hearted effort. They still emerged with a comfortable win. Iowa is a bad team.
Deshawn Sims asserted his dominance early, scoring 11 first-half points on just 7 shots. He would go on to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Manny also finished with 20 points, but he also committed six turnovers. At least a couple of those were due to the malaise that set in, with Michigan players either playing sloppy or trying to make plays a little too spectacular. Though Darius Morris didn't start, he ultimately played more minutes than Laval Lucas-Perry. Anthony Wright managed to log 20 minutes.
For the Hawkeyes, Aaron Fuller was the only double-digit scorer (16 points and 8 rebounds), though Cully Payne and Eric May each put up eight points. John Lickliter, who is awesome, nailed a truly righteous 3-pointer.
Since Last We Met
Michigan's lineup has been shaken up, with Darius Morris inserted into the starting lineup instead of LLP. Morris has started to come into his own, giving Wolverine fans some hope that next year's squad can improve. The Wolverines' rebounding has gotten slightly better (though that is partially attributable to a strong showing against Iowa last time), but other than that, the team's statistics haven't changed radically.
The Hawkeyes have lost to Illinois, Ohio State, and Purdue, while knocking of Northwestern at home. During that run, Iowa has gotten much worse offensively but their defense has improved. Either way, this remains a bad team with very little depth, especially with the permanent departure of Anthony Tucker.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Iowa: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Iowa Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Iowa Def eFG%||211||248||M|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Iowa eFG%||209||147||I|
|Mich TO% v. Iowa Def TO%
|Mich Def TO% v. Iowa TO%||49||269||MMM|
|Mich OReb% v. Iowa DReb%
|Mich DReb% v. Iowa OReb%||223||250||M|
|Mich FTR v. Iowa Opp FTR
|Mich Opp FTR v. Iowa FTR
|Mich AdjO v. Iowa AdjD||95||143||M|
|Mich AdjD v. Iowa AdjO||49||153||MM|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Michigan is a far superior team. This shouldn't be a surprise, as Iowa has been hemorrhaging players from its roster for two years straight now: They're basically like the Michigan football team in Year One of the RichRod era except their coach is in his third season.
The only area in which Iowa has an advantage is rebounding on Michigan's end of the floor, but last times these two teams met the Wolverines had one of their best offensive rebounding outings of the year. Other areas of Iowa advantage like Michigan's ability to get to the free throw line and defend Iowa shooting are probably irrelevant and insignificant, respectively. Iowa has had success when they've forced the opposition into lots of turnovers, but that doesn't seem likely in this contest.
Despite Michigan's previous result against the Hawkeyes, Iowa isn't necessarily a pushover. They've had surprisingly close contests at Illinois, home against Michigan State, and in both of their games against Ohio State. That said, they haven't been able to actually, you know, win any of those games. KenPom likes Michigan by 3, and Vegas likes them by 4. I'm a little more confident than either. Michigan gets its second-straight road win 62-53.
Continuing the baseball previews in a build up to opening day this Friday, I'll look at how the team is pitching is set up this year. Previous preview posts: Initial Schedule Reaction, Maloney Podcast, A Look Back.
Michigan led the Big Ten in ERA last year and returns 74.3% of their innings. Chris Fetter was a big part of, but the returning pitchers had a collective 5.08 ERA. That would have have been good enough for second in the Big Ten. Top returner Eric Katzman, the only starting lefty, is expected to top the rotation upon his return from hernia surgery. Katzman went 7-4 last season with a 3.53 ERA. He'll be in the pen until he's comfortable with longer starts. While I'm expecting more consistency from him this season, I'm somewhat concerned about entering the season late out of the bullpen. If he gets pushed into the rotation too early, the results could be disastrous.
The depth behind Katzman should be better. Alan Oaks will start the year as the Friday guy. Oaks was used almost exclusively on offense to start the year, but after the pitching depth issues of last year started to take their toll Rich Maloney moved him back to the hill. Oaks had four starts at the end of the year. In those starts, he lasted an average of just over five innings per start, but one of his early starts against Indiana was particularly short and ugly at two innings. He had two impressive starts of seven and 7.2 innings respectively with just six earned runs between them.
While I don't expect Oaks to be a lights out starter this season, he is capable of eating a ton of innings, exactly what Michigan was missing to start last season. Other than Fetter, no one could start a game and make it through the 7th inning. It will be interesting to see how spending the entire off season preparing to enter the starting rotation will affect his performance. While I'm skeptical that he has the ability to be our ace, Alan is a key player if Michigan is going to be better this year.
Along with Oaks, I'm expecting good things from Brandon Sinnery and Kolby Wood. I've took a shine to Sinnery since his start against Eastern Michigan as a freshman. The kid has potential and a pretty good combination of pitches. He's not at a dominant level yet, but I can see him being a force in the third or fourth starter. Maloney thinks he's really making a jump, so it'll be exciting to see.
Kolby Wood has just as impressive this off season as his team's closer, registering a 1.45 ERA and 4 saves over 19 games. He's got a jerky motion, but his tall frame gives him good leverage on his fastball and the splitter he added this offseason. He should be in better shape this year. Rumor had it he had a sore wrist to end last season.
Tyler Burgoon (pictured right from BostonWolverine's flickr, which you should check out if your a photo fan, great stuff*) also makes his return to the starting rotation this season after spending the last year and a half in the closer's role. Burgoon began his career at Michigan as a midweek starter during his true freshman season. He had some success, but was pushed into late innings during the weekend because he was too valuable to use just midweek. Burgoon has also fully healed his shoulder. He has a solid repertoire of pitches, most notably his fastball and wicked slider.
Matt Miller, one of our top relievers last season, will make some starts this season. Miller was 1-2 last season with 3.70 ERA, second best behind Dufek in the bullpen. He registered 3 saves in 23 appearances with 43 K's in 41.1 innings. He did start one game last season, but it was against Eastern Michigan and Michigan was just getting guys innings. He went two hitless innings, striking out one.
*(Boston Wolverine also writes Roar of the Tigers.)
The bullpen should be better this season just due to increased depth. The pitching star of the 2009 freshman class, lefty Bobby Brosnahan (pictured at right), will return from Tommy John surgery. Brosnahan is an Ann Arbor native and during his junior year he was listed in the Michigan All-State 2nd team honorees. He had a solid offseason with the Lima Locos, so hopefully that's a good start.
Brandon Sinnery, Kolby Wood and Matt Miller might be seeing time in the bullpen as long relievers, but I think we'll also think we'll see more Matt Broder, Tyler Mills, and Kevin Vangheluwe. Broder pitched well at a lower level summer ball team, the Michigan Rams, but he's yet to get any innings at UM. Tyler Mills was Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year his senior season at Mt. Pleasant HS but redshirted last season. Kevin Vangheluwe was coming off a serious injury coming out of high school and still hasn't quite found his stuff yet. Brian actually did a solid run down of him as a recruit back at mgoblog v1.0, with this now archived Detroit News clip:
"His (right) arm was discolored," Collins said. "It was like if you held it out of a car window and lost circulation. His dad (Mark VanGheluwe) took him to get examined and they gave him some medication to disperse the clot. He contacted (U-M coach Rich) Maloney and he told them to come immediately to U-Hospital. On Thursday, he had surgery to break up the blood clot and they said his muscles were pushing against the rib cage on that (right) side. I was told it was a normal case to remove that top rib on that side. And that was done Friday. Both were successful."
Kevin looked a little bit better this summer, but he's nowhere near the level of dominance he had before the injury.
Our top regular returner that is strictly a bullpen pitcher is Mike Dufek. When away from first base, he's been used here and there as a closer. His fastball can touch the 95-96 range and his slider is pretty good. Dufek probably won't be utilized as much this year, but he'll get his chances depending on how the closer by committee goes.
Travis Smith will spend more time in the bullpen this year. He's had a rough time as a starter over the last year both at Michigan and his summer gig in the Texas Collegiate League. All of these starter/reliever combinations should be huge assets in the pen if they aren't starting on the weekend.
Rounding out the returners are Matt Gerbe and Jeff DeCarlo. Gerbe hasn't shown too much yet during his time at Michigan or his stint with the Winchester Royals of the Valley League this summer. He had an atrocious stint as a starter with the Royals that saw his ERA balloon over 36. He managed to pull it under 9 by the end of the season.
Jeff DeCarlo, well, I've always made it a point to try and not speak that poorly of him. The guy is an Academic All-Big Ten player, not a All-Big Ten player. I respect that. I just cover my eyes and cross my fingers every time I see him on the mound, partially hoping he won't give up 3 runs in an inning, the other hoping he only pegs one guy in the 1 inning he might last. And this isn't an exaggeration. His 2009 stats:
So as this season goes on, if I make references to the "DeCarlo-type outing", this is what I mean. We won't see much of him this year, but when we do, consider it a David Cone like moment, but with less Febreeze. It's a blow out one way or the other, and as a bonus, DeCarlo will have an ERA comparable to David Cone's completion percentage—not the fraction, but the fraction multiplied by 100.
Michigan has solid depth and a concentration of guys who could start or go in the bullpen. Several of those are in the running for closer, and it's always good to have a bunch of guys capable of closing out games. Hell, even DeCarlo was collecting saves with his summer team, so the future has to look brighter, no?
Michigan returns more quality pitching than the rest of the league, and it's had had a year to develop. They also get a few promising prospects back. If they stay healthy, this year's pitching could be just as good as last year's by spreading Chris Fetter's load over five or six players who weren't available for last year. The depth should be enough to keep Michigan from losing random games against conference bottom dwellers Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State, teams that they had a 3-6 record against last year.
That makes me an optimist. An outsider's view of the pitching staff is a little bit different. Most saw Fetter as the be all end all of our staff. That was true about one in every three weekends, but again, I point to the depth issues and a couple inconsistent players. This off season was a promising one for a wide variety of pitchers. If Katzman can get fully healthy before we start to push him for innings, Fetter's loss will be survivable.
Take it easy, man. An announcement: WTKA is moving towards a single drive-time host on the Big Show and it won't be me (obviously—I'm not a radio pro), so the Monday 4-6 window I've been holding down since August is kaput. I'll still be on from 9-10 on Thursdays with Ira and probably do intermittent call-ins when there's something to talk about.
Ira was worried he'd get crucified on the internets for this, so be gentle.
The switch. Cameron Gordon is officially a safety-type player:
“The coaches would always be like, ‘Come to the dark side, come to the dark side,” Gordon said.
A few weeks ago, he did.
Those were the defensive coaches, for what it's worth. Touch The Banner suggests it's not the last move for Gordon in a largely positive take:
I still think he's best suited for linebacker, particularly the weak inside linebacker position held tenuously by Jonas Mouton. Perhaps this is the next step in a slow transition to WILL, because I don't foresee Gordon having the speed to play weak safety, either. There are times in this defense where the strong safety has to roll over to play man coverage on the strong side, meaning the weak safety has to back up to play the deep middle or a deep half.
"Held tenuously" is this defense's equivalent of "magic" in the Winter Olympics. As far as the critique goes: I'm with him. If Gordon is 210 pounds now he'll probably be pushing 220 by fall, which is good for half that position's job but maybe not so good for the deep half bit. Michigan didn't have the ability to have the box safety drop into a deep zone last year and was forced to use Donovan Warren as the second guy in cover two. This exposed Michigan to those wide receiver screens that killed them all year.
I do disagree with TTB's assertion that Rodriguez hasn't shown a propensity for using the middle of the field in the passing game. Who's the number one receiver going into spring? Probably Roy Roundtree, right?
Demon Bear: the interview. Neal Rubin of the News was so moved by Demon Bear destroying everything in sight that he has a newspaper column and bonus Q&A with the developers. Unfortunately, the original video that pwned MSU, OSU, and Notre Dame has been replaced by one that obliterates Miami instead of ND, but that's life.
Anyway, the highlight from Rubin's opus is definitely this:
Jon Dorfman and Szymon Weglarski, partners in a computer animation studio called HiFi 3D, also say they've heard from other universities interested in a similar approach. "Rival mascots," explains Weglarski, "want revenge."
I thought the second bear video would be inevitably disappointing and I was wrong, so maybe Dorfman and Weglarski can continue to raise the bar with bulldog light saber fights and broncos that bore into the earth's core.
Rubin also gets an indirect answer to the question "where's Michigan?"
As a Michiganian, I felt a rush of pride when a polar bear obliterated Spartan Stadium. Any particular reason you chose MSU?
SZYMON: The rival schools were singled out by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Apparently they're a big rival.
I get including MSU, a longtime power, and Miami and Notre Dame, the league's new hotness, but what's the deal with blowing up perpetually mediocre Ohio State? Actually, scratch that. The need to destroy Columbus is self-evident.
Save (for) us. Bob Miller of the Wolverine is running a new college hockey recruiting site and one of their recent articles is on Omaha Lancers goalie Jeff Teglia, who's currently second in the league in save percentage as a 19 year old and should be on Michigan's radar now:
"Once they landed Campbell, they lost interest, but again that's an awesome school and a great, great hockey program," Teglia said. "I'd love to go somewhere in the Midwest because that's where I'm from, but out east would work also.
Notre Dame is Teglia's "dream school," but we'll forgive him for that. ND doesn't have room for a scholarship goalie, FWIW.
Oh… right… the weekend. I didn't do a usual recap post for the petulant reason. Yost Built has one. The weekend was incredibly sloppy, with UNO provided a ton of scoring opportunities because Michigan players got excessively aggressive. My favorite was the goal Saturday night where two Michigan players checked a guy at center ice, creating one of UNO's many, many two-on-ones. Or the one on which Llewellyn turned a routine rush into a two-on-one by aggressively moving to check a guy on his partner's side of the ice and then shot the resulting cross-ice pass into his own goal. I'll just say I'm surprised Lee Moffie was a healthy scratch the last couple weekends. He drew into the lineup when Summers got knocked out for the Saturday game.
Michigan's done unless they win the CCHA tournament, which at this point means trudging through two best-of-three series, one on the road, and then beating Miami and someone else at the Joe. Chances of that: low. At least I won't spend a bunch of time figuring out all the crazy vagaries of the PWR this year.
"He made good saves, and he gave up goals he should’ve saved, simple as that," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “There were times when he saved us, and there were times where he cost us. Four goals against is not good enough. And that’s a team thing too, but Hogie is the last line of defense." …
“There were times when he had no support and times he didn’t read the support,” Berenson said. “Like, if I know this guy (to my side) is wide open, and I’m focused on (the guy with the puck), and I’m convinced he’s going to shoot. And he passes it. I’m toast. I didn’t read it. Every time they got a two-on-one, they scored.”
That is blunt even for Red, and though I've repeatedly expressed the opinion that Hogan's save percentage is 1) bad and 2) deserved I'm surprised given the kinds of goals UNO scored, which were mostly off terrible defensive play.
Etc.: Charlie Davies is going to France to train. PSU basketball blog—good lord—Battle Does It Again has a UFR-type object for Penn State's game against the Spartans. Slate is tracking Olympic sap. I miss CBC's coverage so hard. Curling starts today, though. Michigan ice dancers go on the 19th.
With baseball season officially starting Friday, I'm going to make several sporadic posts over this week in order to preview the team. For starters, I may suggest going back to my previous podcast with Rich Maloney or my initial reaction to our schedule, which I will probably update my outlook after completing my previews.
Last year's record came in at a less than sterling 30-25, the lowest win total since Rich Maloney stepped on campus. The 9-15 BigTen record is tied for the 6th worst conference record in Michigan history (102 seasons), and the worst since 2000 when the team went 10-18. Obviously last year was a disappointment. So much like football, hockey, basketball, or most other sports that get coverage around these parts, baseball was just as involved in the recent so called "curse of 09-10" as Brian put it in mgo.licio.us.
Michigan came into the season with the usual high expectations, but something was different than years past. After losing 4 players to the draft early, Michigan wasn't able to reload with talent it usually would have (how can you when they get drafted 4 months after signing day and less than 3 months before school starts?). Michigan was starting a true freshman at third base, a key middle reliever's career was cut short by surgery, our right field spot was wide open, our designated hitter came out of nowhere in the form of unknown little brother of MLB player Nate McLouth, and our off the field narrative in the media was "walk-ons lead the team." I think the Ann Arbor News really hit the spot last year in their preseason article:
Many of the would-be run producers are tenured but inexperienced, including corner outfielders Kenny Fellows (fifth-year senior) and Nick Urban (fourth-year junior).
"We have a lot of guys with some potential, but they don't have bios yet," Maloney said. "It's kind of a wild card."
Oh, and what a wild card it was. Consistency was never something Michigan could grasp. Eric Katzman earned the alternate persona of Evil Katzman at least once every two weeks. McLouth fluctuated wildly in terms of plate production. Third base was a carousel between John Lorenz and Tim Kalczynski. Right field was Urban, Oaks, Urban again. Burgoon was injured and the bullpen went by committee. We lost Kevin Cislo and Chris Berset for stretches of the season. Nothing seemed to go right.
Well, almost nothing. Chris Fetter, our senior ace was the one consistent bright spot. Fetter carried the team for most of the season, eating up innings and mowing down line ups. He is responsible for our BigTen best team ERA of 4.80. But there was a lack of depth behind him. Before the season ever started, we lost Ben Jenzen, one of our top relievers from the season before. Left handed freshman Bobby Brosnahan, the pitching gem of the incoming class, was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. For a period of 6 weeks, we lost our closer, Tyler Burgoon with a shoulder bruise suffered trying to make a play on a bunt.
So while Fetter could carry us through a Friday game, Saturday and Sunday became an adventure in the bullpen. Like clockwork, you could set an implosion coming every three weeks. The weeks of Evil Katzman meant the bullpen was routinely called in during the third or fourth inning, sometimes earlier. Our Sunday starting position during the first half of the season was just as inconsistent. Travis Smith struggled, as did Kolby Wood and Brandon Sinnery.
Not until Alan Oaks re-entered the rotation did we gain any extra consistency. By then, Fetter was already showing signs of fatigue from his highest inning total ever.
Dear Ryan, please don't leave us after this season, attrition hurts.
(Photo by Jeremy Cho, Michigan Daily)
On offense and defense, preseason depth hurt here, too. Adam Abraham left for the majors after his junior year leaving a HUGE void at third base. John Lorenz would have had time to red shirt and prepare for the college game. Instead, he and walk on senior Tim Kalczynski ended up playing third base by committee. Timmy Kal had been a catcher previous to this move. That's how bad we were hurting at depth. Neither player was that great offensively, especially not compared to the great player that Abraham was.
Joining these two on the left side of the infield was a first year starter in Anthony Toth. While his size would lead most people to think of Toth as a second baseman, he was given the keys to short stop with no real back up available. Toth did alright at the plate, eventually giving a decent hitter in the 9-hole. On the field, he was about average. He committed quite a few errors, always at the worst time, but he wasn't horrible.
In right field, Alan Oaks began the season sick, missing the first two weeks of the season. This opened the door for a previous back up middle infielder Nick Urban to get the starting nod. This actually worked out well for Michigan. Urban was the better defensive outfielder with great speed. Upon Oaks' return to the lineup, he hadn't regained his swing yet either.
In all, we were missing at least four veteran players from the draft, and another 2-3 players at any particular point of the season depending who were injured.
To complicate things, Michigan's hitters really loved the strikeout this year. Mike Dufek struck out once in every 3.8 at bats, Most players average about 4 at-bats per game for a reference. That's killer for an offense when the clean-up hitter strikes out that much. He wasn't alone, however, as Toth and Oaks were nearly as bad with a strikeout every 5 at bats. Michigan finished second in the conference in team strikeouts, one behind Minnesota. The problem was that Michigan only bat .294 while the Gophers hit .314. That was the difference between a 7th place finish and a 2nd place finish.
On the whole, an outsider looking at our team would have seen one great pitcher, and depending on the weekend, either a couple of average pitchers or several really bad pitchers. On offense, they'd seen a bunch of walk on players, some better than others, and a rotating cast of fill ins.
In the next installment of the previews, I'll examine how our depth has adjusted in the last year after getting a full recruiting class, some players healthy, and some more experience.