|WHAT||Michigan at Illinois|
Yet Another Assembly Hall
|WHEN||7 PM Eastern, Today|
|LINE||M –1 (Kenpom)|
Illinois was previewed before Michigan's 70-61 win in Crisler a couple weeks ago. The Illini were in the midst of a tailspin having lost five of six, but had no idea how bad it was going to get. They lost convincingly in Ann Arbor and at home against Purdue before consecutive road blowouts against Nebraska(!!!) and Ohio State saw them plunge off the bubble and all but end Bruce Weber's Illini career.
Not much has changed in the four games since these two teams met: Illinois remains a team with three quality offensive players and total hot garbage behind them. Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard are the primary shot creators.
Leonard is a 7'1" shot-blocker who shoots 60% from the floor with good usage. In the first matchup Illinois ominously fed Leonard for the first few minutes until Matt Vogrich took a charge for Leonard's second foul. He went to the bench for the rest of the half; by the time he returned in the second his teammates had forgotten all about him. After drawing a bunch of e-derps for crying on the bench in the midst of the Nebraska(!!!) blowout, Leonard flirted with the bench despite the total uselessness of his backup. Unfortunately for Michigan, his last outing was a monster (22 points on 13 shots, 14 rebounds, six of them offensive) and may find him back on track in the friendly confines of Yet Another Assembly Hall. After what happened in Crisler you know Illinois will be emphasizing feeding Leonard at all costs.
Paul is Paul, a fantastic athlete and mediocre shooter who is often saddled with the "oh crap there's five seconds on the shot clock" offense. He tries to do too much because he has to. He totally destroyed Ohio State that one game.
Third banana DJ Richardson is mired in a Hardaway-like slump in which he's not making many threes but by God he's shooting him. Over his past five games he's 7 of 33 from three. This has sunk his three point shooting to 28% in conference play—sound familiar?
You'll be pleased to know that 6'8" shooter Tyler Griffey has faded into the background after singlehandedly keeping Illinois in the first matchup. He hasn't scored more than a handful of points in any subsequent game and is struggling to see more than 10-15 minutes in most games. Completely horrible point guard Tracy Abrams did blow up for 22 against Purdue and had an efficient game against Nebraska but has since settled back into his usual offensive inability.
This was mostly covered above. Illinois has lost 9 of their last 11 Big Ten games but did beat Iowa by 11 in their last outing.
THE STUPID-LOOKING BRUCE WEBER PICTURES
We should get them in while we can.
Conference four factors:
|Factor||Offense (Rk)||Defense (Rk)||Avg|
|Effective FG%:||49.3 8||52.1 8||49|
|Turnover %:||21.7 11||19.5 5||20.8|
|Off. Reb. %:||29.0 9||29.7 5||32.5|
|FTA/FGA:||31.9 8||36.7 10||36.5|
As before, Illinois is an inexplicable debacle on offense and mediocre defensively. They're 11th in the conference at shooting threes at 30 percent and dead last in opponent three-point percentage (though that might be random) at 40%. They do shoot well on twos and prevent opponents from taking a lot of threes.
Collapse collapse collapse. Collapse like Mesa Verde circa 1300 AD. Illinois' best shots all come from Leonard and Illinois can't shoot threes to save their lives right now. The previous edition of this preview said "watch out for DJ Richardson from deep"; now he's Hardaway. Double Leonard all day and twice on Tuesday.
Zone zone zone. Zone zone zone. Part of Michigan's fantastic ability to deny Leonard the ball in the second half of the first matchup was extensive use of a 2-3 zone. Again, you can take your chances with Illinois shooting from deep. Unleash the zone kraken!
Obligatory Hardaway section. Is obligatory.
Switch everything not Leonard-based on the perimeter. Remove driving lanes by doing this; if it encourages someone on Illinois to go isolation on a mismatch I think that's a bonus even if it's Paul. Paul is not an efficient offensive player for a lot of reasons.
Exploit the confusion and depression and disunity. I'm nervous that Illinois comes out annoyingly rejuvenated; I assume Illinois fans are nervous that Illinois comes out like they have for most of the season. I'm guessing Michigan gets their fair share of easy layups because Illinois is just not in the game. This could be a totally wrong thing to think.
Let Novak and Douglass get more aggressive with the ball earlier in the shot clock. It would be nice to take some of the pressure off Burke; with both of those guys proving they can create shots of late, Michigan should show the ball screen and then try to use the space it creates by pulling Leonard out of the lane to get Douglass and Novak drives to the basket for either insane heistation layups (Douglass); high-percentage pull ups (Novak) or kick outs for open shots.
More Leonard foul trouble please. It would be nice.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one. Sippin On Purple's Rodger Sherman rises from the grave to rend his garments and screams about Michigan's luck in close games to the heavens.
McGary said he isn't remotely ready for the NBA and is looking forward to playing at Michigan with Glenn Robinson III, an Indiana high school teammate at Ann Arbor and the son of former NBA star Glenn Robinson. Sampson said he is grateful for his two years at Brewster, adding, "I think if I had gone to St. John's and never come here, I would not be nearly as well off as I am now."
Barry Larkin isn't walking through that door.
The AP published a fascinating article yesterday about Big Ten baseball's next move after years of thwarted attempts to level the playing field that has me wondering about what the point of a baseball national championship is, anyway.
The Big Ten is essentially a mid-major in baseball for structural reasons: the season starts in February, the Big Ten plays virtually its entire nonconference season on the road, and recruits gravitate towards places that don't force them to spend a month of time when they're hypothetically in school hanging out in Florida.
The obvious solution in this era of year-round schooling for virtually all athletes is to push the season back, but the teams who like the current North-screwing setup outnumber those screwed. They like getting a ton of home games by default and not having to compete against major athletic departments in the North. Surprise!
So the Big Ten is rumbling about radical departures—literally:
Minnesota's John Anderson, the winningest baseball coach in Big Ten history, is pushing for his conference to break away from the NCAA's traditional February-to-June schedule and play when the weather in the north is more favorable. In short, the Big Ten's boys of summer would be on the field in summer.
Such a move would cost the Big Ten schools any shot at playing in the NCAA tournament. That doesn't bother Anderson.
"There were four SEC teams in the College World Series last year. We're never going to catch those people," he said. "The system works for them, and they're not going to want to change it. People are going to criticize this idea, but we need to get people talking about it."
No Big Ten team has made the CWS since Michigan in 1984, so it's not like they'd be giving up much. Players headed to the Big Ten are not doing so because they're banking on NCAA tourney appearances anyway. Meanwhile, the Big Ten Network is hurting for content in the summer. It might not hurt recruiting much if Big Ten teams could promise a ton of televised games and a format specifically designed to appeal to pro teams—wood bats, maybe, the conference can afford it.
Short of that the Big Ten is working on a weird proposal to allow up to 14 non-conference games in the fall that would count for the spring/winter season as well. Purdue coach Doug Schreiber came up with that idea when he wasn't busy emailing Corn Nation about Big Ten schedule strength misconceptions. That email spells out how deeply screwed the Big Ten is by the current system:
So, according to your rationale, Big Ten teams need to play a murderous, non-conference schedule prior to their conference season when 95% of these games will be on the road. It may help with improving the RPI's a little, but probably not the overall winning percentages, which will cancel out the tough schedules being played.
The choice here is between a lot more home games and something to do in the summer and the dream of reaching the CWS after a drought approaching 30 years. I'm with Anderson: withdraw from the current system, set yourselves up as pro-friendly as possible, use the Big Ten Network as a club, try to get other Northern schools to join you, and raise your profile regionally by being interesting when nothing else is going on (August). It's not like things can get worse.
Let's get even more radical, in fact. BYU's soccer team is not a part of the NCAA. They play in the PDL, "the top-level U23 men’s league in North America," alongside a vast menagerie of local club teams and MLS youth sides. [More on the transition here. It's really interesting.] If the Big Ten baseball is going to forgo the NCAA tournament in favor of a summer-based schedule they might as well go whole-hog with it and leave the NCAA entirely.
They could then use their huge pots of money to their advantage by offering 18, 20, 22 scholarships instead of the 11.7 (IIRC) teams are currently limited to. Leaving the NCAA might also allow them to tailor their schedule to something more MLB-friendly, or even join a relevant minor league so they could compete for a championship bigger than the Big Ten. Players could sign with pro teams and still maintain their eligibility. It could serve as a giant middle finger to the Southern teams. Hearing them complain about the lack of a level playing field would be delicious.
Even if that's judged too radical, it's time to stop working with the current NCAA system.
This message board post gave me an idea: this blog should create an e-HOF for Michigan athlete in the sports it covers. Retiring numbers is something that people do 30 years down the road, and probably never in football; legends patches will be issued to like six people. There should be an intermediate ground. Now is the time to create plaques.
First we must set ground rules.
Q: should there be a waiting period?
I remember thinking Michigan should retire Lavell Blanchard's number because he represented the start of a new era in Michigan's basketball program. That didn't so much happen. There's a reason HOFs usually impose a five-year waiting period.
On the other hand, it might be a good idea to be able to recognize players right away, and unlike actual HOFs if we mess up we can implement the Bill Simmons solution by creating a pyramid with the all-timers at the top and the guys were may have gotten over-excited about at the bottom.
Q: what should the criteria be for admission?
For one I think only players who played after 2005, when the blog started, should be eligible—at least at first. There may be a time when we start reaching further back but fundamentally this is about experiencing the careers of the guys who get in, something we can't do with Tom Harmon.
As far as who is a quality candidate, this is some combination of being really good and an ineffable other quality that encompasses having dreads or bleeding all over everything or developing a pathological hatred of the media or absolutely stoning North Dakota or talking up brunette girls in the aftermath of your game-winning kick. Like… this should be a thing Zack Novak gets in, no questions asked. It should be equally about the impact player X has on the pleasure of being a Michigan fan than about being really good. Really good helps, of course.
When Deadspin bothered with their HOF they required a 75% approval rate to get in. Here voting would only be open to >100 point users, I'd imagine. Is that the right number? Should it be a sliding scale such that anyone who just graduated needs 95% and it drops five percent each year until it gets to 75%?
Q: should there be an annual cap on admitees?
I was thinking three, but surveying this hypothetical field of candidates makes that seem slender: RVB, Martin, Novak, Hunwick, Molk. And then there's a backlog of players who have impacted in the era this blog was talking about sports. Maybe there should be a larger inaugural class.
Q: what about sports that don't get coverage around here?
Football, basketball, and hockey are going to get adequate face time. Other sports, not so much. This is largely because they don't get enough attention to have the aforementioned impact. I'd like to recognize everyone else but the reason I don't write about everything is I can't do so competently. Does this thing have a place for the Kellen Russells/Samantha Findleys of the world? Maybe we should set aside a non-revenue spot every other year or something.
The comments are your debating ground.
The BCS is now talking about a four team playoff and even Jim Delany is in. This is sort of about declining attendance (but not really), sort of about declining viewership (indirectly) and 1000% about this graph from a Neilsen "State of the Media" report on sports.
And then football:
Both the big basketball increase and big football decrease can be explained by external events. CBS finally realized it was the 18th century and split first-round games across four channels instead of forcing you to watch Local State U beat up on a 15 seed when Kansas (always Kansas) is suffering an incredible upset across the country. The BCS moved off broadcast to cable. But when paired with declining interest, the cavern between postseason formats screams "grit your teeth and do something literally everyone else wants."
BONUS: Nielsen lists the five most-watched games of the year:
1 vs 2 games, the Rose Bowl, the 3 vs 4 Fiesta, and random Michigan games not featuring awesome teams.
[HT: a message board!]
Today's recruiting roundup takes a look at two potential commits (yes, it never ends, and this is good), gets more insight on Patrick Kugler, and finally puts the whole Alex Kozan thing to rest. Finally.
And The Coyote Said, "War Eagle"
Alex Kozan has eaten the Merciless Peppers of Quetzaltenango, spoken with his coyote spiritual guide, and emerged from his vision quest with newfound clarity about his
soulmate college destination: Kozan will be an Auburn Tiger. There's no word on whether he mulled over his decision in a lighthouse, but I'm going to presume this as fact until proven otherwise.
Also, amen to this: “It’s been a crazy ride,” Kozan said, “but I’m real glad it’s over.”
We can officially close the book on the class of 2012. We can also discuss guys who will actually play center for Michigan, as more evaluations of new commit Patrick Kugler have come out since his commitment post. Here's Allen Trieu on Kugler's junior film, which is unfortunately stuck behind a Scout paywall ($):
The kid has great feet and gets into the second level very well. He's a technician and a smart player, which you would expect from his dad being an NFL coach. Now, you take all of those strengths and project him to center, and Michigan fans should be excited. He's bigger and more athletic than most center prospects. You essentially have a kid that could easily play tackle or guard for most schools at center. That is also a position where smarts and knowledge of the game come into play and this kid certainly has it. His upside was good to begin with, but as a center, it's excellent.
Excellent, indeed. I'd always rather have a recruit who plays tackle in high school—where high school teams usually stick their best linemen—then learns center in the offseason than a guy who's limited in where he projects. Take a good, but slightly undersized, high school tackle and their ceiling immediately raises when shifted to center if they've got the technique and versatility, which shouldn't be a problem with Kugler. Here's his high school head coach on just that ($):
“I think his ability to play low is one of his strengths,” [North Allegheny coach Art] Walker said of Kugler. "He’s a great run blocker, and we like to consider him a finisher. He’s also a strong pass blocker as well. He runs well, he pulls well, and he has great feet and hands. He’s still maturing physically, and he’s having his best offseason to date. He can play any position you ask him to, wherever the team needs him most.”
I really like the addition of Kugler to the class. Michigan is set along the offensive line unless a guy like Ethan Pocic wants to join the party.
Quickly: Jared Shanker on Jake Butt and his ties to Ohio State and Notre Dame. Tremendous interviews Chris Fox, who's hopefully given up on his dirtbiking hobby. Chantel Jennings on Khalid Hill and #Team134 ($).
Must Not Make Played-Out "That Ish [Mc]Cray" Joke
The #44 prospect in the Rivals100, Trotwood (OH) Madison linebacker Mike McCray, will announce his decision on March 8th between Michigan, Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He has one more visit scheduled: to Michigan, on March 6th. That's a pretty positive sign, and the general feeling is that McCray will end up blue—Rivals.com's Mike Farrell has said as much in multiple twitter posts.
McCray is one of three blue-chip linebackers who Michigan appears to lead for, with E.J. Levenberry and Dorian O'Daniel being the other two. McCray seems like a MLB, while Levenberry and O'Daniel both project to the outside. It's possible Michigan takes all three if they want to commit; it'll come down to a numbers game, but that would be one heck of a linebacker haul. If the Wolverines are saving spots for the best players available, it'll be hard to turn down any of those guys.
Steve Wiltfong posted on the Wolverine247 board today that Michigan "may be the team to beat" for Columbus (OH) Bishop Hartley TE Jacob Matuska after a great visit last Monday ($). This one could be a Michigan/Notre Dame battle, and there's reason for optimism—other than general "Hoke poops magic" optimism—for the Wolverines; a post on BuckeyePlanet says Michigan is very much in the mix despite Matuska being a presumed ND lock ($).
Ty Isaac's Coach Goes Full Fred Jackson and More
TomVH caught up with Ty Isaac's head coach to talk about the Midwest's best running back, and BOOM GALE SAYERS'D ($, info in header):
"Anytime he touches the ball, everybody is on edge, because it could be a Gayle Sayers moment. Every time Sayers touched the ball, he could go, and Ty has that ability," [Joliet Catholic coach Dan] Sharp said. "[Isaac would fit] in any kind of pro-style offense. He's the type of back who can get tough yards, durable, and he's not fun to tackle for safeties and corners."
Sharp also said Isaac reminds him physically of Marcus Allen, NFL Hall of Fame member and Heisman Trophy winner. In relevant, non-hyperbolic news, Isaac has no timetable for a decision and will visit Ann Arbor on March 10th.
Michigan has shown up on several players's top [blank] lists recently. Dadeville (AL) DT Rod Crayton visited on Sunday of that mid-February weekend, and while he didn't catch the virulent strand of commitment fever, he now has Michigan in his top three with LSU and Mississippi State ($, info in header). Another player with U-M in his top three is Rancho Cucamonga (CA) CB Chris Hawkins, along with Stanford and Notre Dame ($, info in header); Hawkins said he grew up idolizing Charles Woodson, so he's obviously got good taste.
While Michigan hasn't yet offered, South Jordan (UT) Bingham DT Lowell Lotulelei likes the Wolverines, Oregon, Utah, and Washington ($). Concord (CA) De La Salle LB Michael Hutchings—yes, another blue-chip LB—hasn't narrowed his list yet, but says the Wolverines will "easily" make the cut when he trims his list to 8 or 10 in April ($, info in header).
And now, your semi-weekly bulleted list, this time of players who have expressed interest in taking visits to Ann Arbor:
- Don Bosco Prep DE Alquadin Muhammed, one of the top defensive prospects in the country, plans to visit Michigan, though he hasn't set a timetable ($, info in header).
- Asburn (VA) Briar Woods LB Matt Rolin will take a visit to Ann Arbor in the spring, along with planned trips to Tennessee, BC, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech ($, info in header).
- Auburn (CA) Placer DT Eddie Vanderdoes told Tremendous he will take one of his officials to Michigan, though he obviously hasn't set those in stone yet. His says his interest in the Wolverines is "very, very high."
- Moreno Valley (CA) Rancho Verde WR Damore'ea Stringfellow hopes to visit Michigan before the start of football season ($).
- Richmond (VA) Varina S Tim Harris recently named Virginia as his top school, but he says his next visit will be to Ann Arbor ($). Virginia Tech and Ohio State are also in the mix.
- Damascus (MD) WR Zach Bradshaw has a Michigan visit in the works ($, info in header).
- Upland (CA) DE Joe Mathis says he'll take one of his official visits to Ann Arbor ($, info in header).
- Los Angeles (CA) Loyola CB Cameron Walker hopes to swing by campus when visiting family in Michigan this April ($).
- Oakley (CA) Freedom WR Darrell Daniels says he'll take an official to Michigan if "[he's] really feeling them," and he may also try to head to the Wolverine camp as well ($).
Finally, there's one happy trails to report. One of the Trinity trio, CB Ryan White, committed to hometown Louisville yesterday over Illinois. Teammate DE Jason Hatcher also seems to be favoring the Cardinals early; we'll see how that affects WR James Quick.
Release the constructions. Stage N of the everlasting Crisler revamp has begun. Behold pictures of construction.
The renovations will be completed just in time for no one to be able to afford tickets.
Combine crushage. Mike Martin may not have put up as many reps as he wanted in the bench press but he still finished second amongst DTs. In everything else he was exceptional:
Bench press: 36 repetitions, where he tied for second
40-yard dash: 4.88 seconds
Vertical jump: 33.5 inches, where he tied for 13th
Broad jump: 113 inches
3-cone drill: 7.19 seconds, where he tied for 15th
20-yard shuttle: 4.25 seconds, tied for sixth
That is at 306 pounds. He's a riser amongst DTs.
Meanwhile, Junior Hemingway put up two 4.5 40s and killed the agility drills:
In the other events, Hemingway really stood out:
- Three-cone: 6.59 seconds, first out of 26 receivers
- 20-yard shuttle: 3.98 seconds, tied for first out of 26 receivers
- 60-yard shuttle: 11.16 seconds, 2nd out of 13 receivers
"There aren't many receivers who did more for themselves than that guy," an AFC scout said of Hemingway. "He wasn't even on our radar going into this thing. He is now.
Therein is the inexplicable YAC knack. I wonder why it seemed like he could never get separation if he's putting up those numbers. A 225 pound guy who can change directions that fast should be open all the time.
For his part, David Molk put up 41 reps in the bench, second only to Memphis freak of nature Dontari Poe. He is furious about this, because David Molk is furious about everything.
The bust. Rivals puts out a list of recruiting class busts highlighted by Kiffin's single year at Tennessee and three consecutive Florida State classes in the dying days of the Bowden era. Michigan's '05 class checks in 7th. Michigan finished sixth in the class rankings that year and got very little from that class.
BUSTS – TALENT DIVISION
- Kevin Grady (#22 overall)
- Jason Forcier
- Brandon Logan
- LaTerryal Savoy
- Mister Simpson
- Andre Criswell (not that anyone expected a ton from him)
BUSTS – CHARACTER EVALUATION DIVISION
- Marques Slocum (#37)
- James McKinney (#98)
- Eugene Germany
- Chris Richards
- Johnny Sears
- Justin Schifano (not a bad guy but didn't want to play football)
- Carson Butler
- Antonio Bass (#49)
- Cory Zirbel (#83)
- Chris McLaurin
ACTUALLY USEFUL PLAYERS
- Mario Manningham (#45)
- Terrance Taylor (#96)
- Brandon Harrison
- David Moosman
- Zoltan Mesko
- Tim McAvoy (sort of)
- Mark Ortmann
That's brutal. You've got a couple of okay linemen, Manningham, Taylor, and Harrison. The next year's class was decent (Brandon Graham, Steve Schilling, Jonas Mouton, Steve Brown, Brandon Minor) but didn't produce anything past the four stars save Perry Dorrestein; 2007 had Mallett and Warren as five star headliners and was then mostly junk, which set Rodriguez up for failure from the start. Rodriguez then helped matters along, of course.
This is all so clear in retrospect. One of the things I'll be looking for in the first couple Hoke classes is how many guys we see burn out for character/grade issues. It certainly seems like that number is going to be a lot lower than we saw at the tail end of the Carr regime. So far Hoke's only got Chris Barnett, the surprise tight end with red flags galore who burned out halfway through fall camp and took Kellen Jones with him. (Jones ended up at Oklahoma. QED.) That's an understandable misstep in the midst of a chaotic final month before signing day with a new roster. Since then he hasn't approached a guy with a whisper of an issue.
Popcorn time. Sports statistics fabulist David Berri is still plugging his ridiculous notion that draft status is not at all predictive of NFL QB performance. This was one of the claims that caused me to write a long screed about how useless Berri is a couple years ago in which I collected Berri debunkings in the four major sports to point out that his claims are almost always either easily proven false or simpleminded simplifications of incredibly complex questions.
This remains the case if he's still pumping his inane NFL QB study. This time Phil Birnbaum has noticed:
They argue -- as does Gladwell -- that we should just assume the guys who played less, or didn't play at all, are just as good as the guys who did play. We should just disregard the opinions of the coaches, who decided they weren't good enough.
That's silly, isn't it? I mean, it's not logically impossible, but it defies common sense. At least you should need some evidence for it, instead of just blithely accepting it as a given.
And, in any case, there's an obvious, reasonable alternative model that doesn't force you to second-guess the professionals quite as much. That is: maybe early draft choices aren't taken because they're expected to be *better* superstars, but because they're expected to be *more likely* to be superstars.
He promises future posts examining the subject. I promise they'll leave Berri's study shattered at the bottom of a ravine.
Erp? TTB interviews Ben Braden and comes back with this:
Early playing time: Right now, the plan is that I will not be redshirting. I think I'll be a second stringer, and then just go from there. But right now that's the plan between me and the coaches. . . . [I'll be playing] right tackle.
I'm not exactly stressed that Michigan might miss out on a redshirt senior year from Braden what with the 2013 OL class, but if I had to bet I'd say Braden ends up redshirting anyway.
There's a difference between Jack Miller redshirting—the world will end before you see the field this year—and Braden's spot on the depth chart. It's not too hard to envision a situation in which he's forced onto the field. Even assuming Kalis is what he's reputed to be Braden's certainly in the running to be the second guy off the bench in the event of injuries at tackle. I bet we'd see Elliott Mealer in before Braden in the event a tackle goes down with a minor injury a la Lewan last year, as they'll want to preserve that redshirt if possible.
Pickerington (OH) Central DE Taco Charlton capped off Michigan's ridiculous Saturday during TGMFWITHOMFW* by becoming the sixth commitment of the day after Michigan basketball's upset of Ohio State. Growing up just outside of Columbus, the Buckeyes were his childhood favorites, but Charlton has done a complete 180 and will now represent the Wolverines. I caught up with Taco last night to talk about his commitment, the role Erin Andrews played in it, why he chose Michigan, and more:
ACE: What made you decide a couple weekends ago that it was the right time to make your commitment?
TACO: Going into the week, everybody asked me if I was going to commit, and I said no because I didn't think I was ready. After getting onto the campus and sitting down with the coaches and all the athletic people and all the academic people, then really getting a chance to sit down and talk to my parents about it, there was really nothing I was looking for in a college that wasn't at Michigan. It was just the perfect place for me.
ACE: Specifically, when you say Michigan had everything that you were looking for, what was that? What set Michigan apart from the other schools that you'd seen?
TACO: I definitely love all the coaches and everything like that, especially being how three of the main coaches are defensive line guys with Coach Montgomery and Coach Mattison and Coach Hoke, they're all defensive line guys, so that was a plus right there. They can really develop my game and make sure that I'm a great player.
ACE: Being there for that weekend, where seemingly everybody committed all at the same time, what was the atmosphere of that visit with everyone committing? Did that play a factor, seeing so many guys all decide at around the same time that they wanted to be at Michigan?
TACO: It was great to be a part of it, one of the biggest recruiting weekends in history, so that was just great to be able to say you were a part of that. Just seeing how everybody felt the same way that you did and they didn't hold back on it, you go, well, it may be about time to just commit.
ACE: How did you let the coaches know? I know mentioned on Twitter that Erin Andrews might have been involved in some way. How did it actually go down?
TACO: (laughs) Well, you know, Shane Morris, he was telling Coach Mattison if he would get a picture with Erin Andrews, he'd convince me to commit that day. I wasn't getting binded to it, I was just laughing it off. Coach Mattison got him a picture [with Erin Andrews]. So the game was over and we're on the bus back, and he's getting into my ear about committing and everything. After we got back to Schembechler Hall, we were just talking, and I was talking to my parents and everything. We just felt it was the right place for me to be and I just committed there.
ACE: You talked about the coaches. What set them apart from the other coaching staffs that you've been in contact with throughout the process?
TACO: You could just tell that they really care for the players. The players were telling me how they treated them, and with [Pickerington Central grad] Tamani [Carter] being there, just talking to him, you could really tell they really care for their players and they care for their well-being. It was like a whole family mindset and everything. Their whole families were up there. It was just great.
ACE: Being a part of this class that's already got 13 guys in it, and you guys seem to be interacting a lot on social media and everything and really staying in touch, what does it feel like to be a part of a class that's already this close, it seems, this early in the process?
TACO: It's good, you know, all the guys are real cool with each other, we all know each other, especially being at the game we got to meet a lot of each other since we all committed that week. That day we got to meet each other, and we were throwing the football and everything, making jokes, stuff like that. From the very beginning we had a good time.
ACE: Pickerington is being represented quite well between you and Jake Butt. What's it going to like having to face off with him as an opponent next season before being his teammate the year after?
TACO: You know, before—and right now—we're still rivals. But we're real cool with each other. Right now we're still rivals. Right now we've got to go up there and make sure we handle our business when we go against each other, but after that we'll be teammates and everything. It'll be good to say that we're both representing Pickerington at Michigan. That will be good.
ACE: Have the coaches talked to you specifically about what role you'll be playing once you get to Michigan?
TACO: I'll definitely be at end, they said, getting to be a speed rusher on the outside. Getting there, they said that the guy they had there last year [Craig Roh, I presume] is moving to the five-technique, so when I get there I'll play that position [weakside DE]. I'll try to add some power and work on my technique.
ACE: You just mentioned two ways that you were looking to improve before you get to Michigan. What else are you working on before you get to the college level?
TACO: I'm working on everything. I'm never satisfied with where I am right now. I always believe I have to get better somewhere, whether it's speed, strength, technique most definitely—anything that can improve my game, especially for my senior year.
ACE: Obviously you were able to wrap up the process relatively quickly, but throughout the whole recruiting process, what did you like about it, and what makes you happy that it's now over?
TACO: It was fun. I got a chance to really get offers from a lot of good schools, and if I would've waited I probably would've got a lot more. It was fun to get a chance to talk to schools from all over and even entertain the fact that I could maybe go out to anywhere, really, and get to play football. It was good to get it over with, though. All the stress goes away, having to make the big decision and everything like that, and I just get to focus on my senior year of football.
ACE: I've been asking the guys this question. In a few words, what would you say made you feel that Michigan was the right place for you?
TACO: Michigan is a big family, and that's what I like about it. It's just a big family and that's something I want to be a part of, how great of a family it was.
*The Greatest Mid-February Weekend in the History of Mid-February Weekends
Hey, kids. I've been vague contact with the e-world over the past few days—just not at the exact moment when the site blew up—and I've got all these opinions and stuff.
Not relevant. / Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com
Actually, there are few opinions here since I absorbed the games over twitter. Sounds like Friday was a total debacle in which Shawn Hunwick had his first truly bad game in a long time and John Merrill was again responsible for a very important goal. Saturday night was just another Gongshow performance, what with Michigan having to kill nine power plays against the worst team in the league. Yost Built has a better picture of what happened.
Michigan didn't skate Chiasson late in the Friday game and benched him in favor of Serville on Saturday. That sixth defense spot is obviously a sore spot; I wonder how much leeway either guy will get now that it's dyin' time.
Clare isn't great shakes himself. I don't mind him on the PK because when the puck ends up on his stick he can fling it down the ice. Even strength that puck is going to sit on his stick way too long and end up stuck in Michigan's zone. I think we're all regretting the way the Burlon thing turned out by now.
Pairwise. Even so, Michigan has finished second in the league and remains a one-seed in the PWR. Since BGSU is not a TUC and didn't swing any important COP points (all of which were against leaguemates) the only damage to Michigan's resume was to their RPI. That was slight and other one-seed aspirants had crappy weekends. mfan_in_ohio explains:
In fact, an oddity about the Pairwise rankings is that losses to bad teams hurt less than losses to good teams, in that Michigan's record against TUCs was unaffected. Also, Ferris only managed one point this weekend against Western, Lowell took only one point from Merrimack, and Denver split with North Dakota. So Michigan ends the weekend in 3rd place in the Pairwise, trailing only #1 Duluth and #2 BC.
At this point the Duluth comparison is largely out of Michigan's hands. It's all about the TUC record in that comparison and Duluth has approximately a two-game lead. Unless they get less than a split from SCSU this weekend it'll be tough to pass the Bulldogs.
Michigan's other lost comparison is against BC, and that's all about RPI. BC is on a nine-game win streak and has turrible Vermont next, so don't get your hopes up until the playoffs.
Michigan probably has to win the CCHA to get either of these comparisons; even if they do so the two teams above them will have an opportunity to hold serve.
Looking down, it's all about RPI. I count six teams that are potential threats if they do better than M in the playoffs—Ferris State, BU, Lowell, Maine, Miami, and Minnesota. Unless things fall very wrong the worst Michigan can end up is a low two seed. Since not all of these teams can do well in the playoffs, if Michigan gets to the Joe and goes 1-1 there they'll probably hold onto a one. This will be a lot clearer after this weekend.
CCHA. Michigan finishes second and gets the second-lowest seed to reach the second round. If there are two huge upsets in the first round that will be Alaska. If there is one that will be the OSU-ND winner. If chalk reigns that will be LSSU.
I'm not sure who Michigan wants. ND played them very tough earlier this year but have collapsed since that series, going 2-6 and playing themselves out of the tournament. Ohio State has done even worse since getting swept by Michigan in mid-January—1-7-2. LSSU is 4-6-2, which in this group of teams counts as on fire. I still think Notre Dame is by far the most talented team in there, so I'd prefer either of the other two.
Unless it's Alaska—highly unlikely—whoever Michigan gets will be a TUC even if they suffer a sweep. Lose that series and Michigan is not getting their #1.
Rooting interests. This will cause revulsion amongst many, but I think you might actually want Minnesota to do well. They're hosting this year because they host damn near all the time. If Michigan and Minnesota both end up one seeds they won't see each other in the regionals; Michigan will be going head to head with Ferris and UMD for the right to be the #1 at a dead building in Wisconsin.
While you're gritting your teeth about that, root against:
- Minnesota-Duluth/BC. These are likely pointless but whatever.
- The Threat Group listed above save Minnesota: Ferris, BU, Lowell, Maine, Miami.
- Northeastern. This is a little bit of a risk for obscure BU-comparison COP reasons but they're near the TUC cutoff and losing them drops a loss off Michigan's TUC record.
- Alaska. They're below the TUC cutoff and Michigan wants them to stay there.
Other than Minnesota, you might want to root for St. Lawrence, which amazingly has a longshot bid at getting over the TUC cliff.
This is a follow up to to Doctor Rocklove a few weeks ago, where I identified the influence of offensive sets on philosophies. If you're not familiar with offensive theory you should go back and read that. If you're a football coach you are welcome to pinch the bridge of your nose and shake your head, for this is only going to cover about 20 percent of what you know to be the basics of offensive football.
The point today is to look at some of the base plays of various offenses, and a few of the constraint plays that they use to counter, and what defenses do to counter that. In doing so I hope to
find stumble upon a better explanation of Borgesian offensive theory than the "grab bag" this space has previously suggested.
That Thing You Do
You've probably read enough college football boilerplate by now to have heard a coach talk about "what we'd like to do." This does not have to mean one play, but it often means one concept—very much like a play—which the team will be able to execute to perfection against the defense they want to see. That play is usually going to be low-risk, and if executed flawlessly against the vanilla defense it's built to beat, it will gain a consistent 5 to 7 yards. It can be run out of many formations, and you will practice it a thousand million times until you are sure it will work every time unless the opposition "cheats" to beat it.
For Vince Lombardi it was the sweep. For Wisconsin (and virtually every high school in our division in the late-'90s) it was the ISO. It could be the Triple-Option (Bo), or the Zone Read (Rodriguez), or Hitch-n-Out (Walsh) or Levels (Peyton Manning's favorite), or 62 mesh (Captain Leachbeard). With passing offenses, which is Borges's thing, it's important to note that the core concept itself can often be a package of plays which work off of each other, none particularly favored; for running the same concept will vary where on the line it will attack.
You can go crazy for your core concept. You can practice it incessantly. You can recruit players whose skills best fit what they're supposed to do on that play. You can even focus physical training on developing muscles that are used on that play. The better you are at that play—and this is a sliding scale—the more the defense has to move someone or do something to "adjust" to you. But this is a zero-sum game, so if you're moving a defender to stop the base play, he's no longer doing the thing he was doing before. He is making something else way easier than it should be. He'll do this anyway, until you make him pay.
Constraint Theory of Offense and RPS
What you choose as your core play or concept will determine much about the other things your offense does, because now you add plays to punish defenses for adjusting to your base play. That's what coaches mean by "constraint"—you are constraining the level to which the defense can react to your bread and butter. What you are essentially doing is creating an environment in which you get to run your core play, which you've practiced more than any other play, exactly how you drew it up as much as you can.
Certain concepts are almost always constraints because they won't work against vanilla defenses. Delayed handoffs work because the defensive line is closing on the quarterback as if it's a pass play. Halfback screens work well against blitzes but if a linebacker is in man on the running back, a vanilla defensive concept, you're screwed.
Defensive wins in rock, paper, scissors are rare and lucky guesses; usually a D's successes come from outstanding execution of a vanilla defense, for example if the nose tackle shoots past a playside block and forces a pitch on a speed option (as if that could happen).
Defenses have constraints too but theirs are limited by the offense's greatest advantage: whoever has the ball chooses the play (the D's advantage is so much more can go wrong with offensive execution). Defensive constraints translated to boilerplate sound like "we took away the run and made Denard beat us through the air." What they mean is the defense was cheating against the offense's base play all game but leaving themselves more open to the constraint plays, betting on poorer execution by the offense.
Dantonio last year sent two blitzing linebackers up the middle on many occasions, taking away Michigan's bread 'n butter play "Denard-'n-stuff." This forced Michigan into our constraint, which was targeting open receivers in short zones, but then Dantonio took this away by having safeties replace the blitzing LBs. This opened up another constraint by making deep coverage completely up to the cornerbacks, but then a trash tornado covered that constraint for them.
What the constraint theory does for playcalling is create a kind of matrix of offensive adjustments to defensive adjustments and adjustments to those adjustments. For a typical varsity high school team that matrix is probably 20 plays, and for college football it's more complex, and in the NFL the adjustments are so myriad and subtle I'd have an easier time teaching EMI/RMI shielding (it sounds hard).
Because the shades of gray in such a big decision matrix make for convoluted understanding, I've tried to (over-)condense the basic constraints of four basic offenses. There is way, way more but these are a few of the constraint packages that Michigan used last year.
Offensive Concept: I'm bigger, faster and stronger than you are, so I'm gonna hit you so hard your momma cries, then evoke masculine metaphors.
Defensive Concept: Control the point of contact, win 1st down, never let the train leave the station.
|Rock||Man-on-man blocking, backs hit 2nd level at full speed running vertically. Repeated success quickly tires defenders, especially if the backs are regularly hitting defensive backs, and sets up soul-crushing play-action.||Read and react. Have LBs who can react quickly to the right hole (5-2, 4-3 under, 3-4), or b) have superior DL beat their blocks while the LBs maintain their gaps (4-3). Zone behind that so CBs can pincer.|
|Paper||Prey on the reacting linebackers by running play action, then rolling the pocket away from the point of attack and passing deep.||Blitz their favorite gaps. The point is to control where the point of contact occurs, so the sooner that happens, the sooner one of them will take out the lead blocker, and the sooner the ballcarrier is tackled.|
|Scissors||Screens, draws, and quick, short passes to curl and out routes to take advantage of corners' fears of something deep.||Back off into safe coverage--these days it's cover 2 man, meaning the cornerbacks are in man on WRs with safety help over the top. This takes the CBs out of run support but any pass deep is into double-coverage.|
Timed Passing (West Coast)
Offensive Concept: A symphony of route design and timing that puts defenses into a progression of impossible choices.
Defensive Concept: Throw off your timing, suffocate your routes, kill your conductor.
|Rock||Quick routes by receivers and RBs that make a zone defender commit to one guy, then hit the other guy before another defender can come up.||Cover-2, and faster, smarter zone defenders who pass off receivers seamlessly, so that the O has to check down to nothing, throw into a super-tight window, or just runs out of time before the pass rush gets home.|
|Paper||Run the ball with power, delayed handoffs and screens. Once the defense is thoughtlessly stepping backwards when the QB is, they're no longer able to react to something as basic as a RB and his convoy pointed downhill.||Zone blitz, i.e. drop DL into coverage while random LBs and safeties blitz or squat in short zones. Reads and blocking are much more difficult, and small windows become no windows.|
|Scissors||Throw "hot" into the pressure, with pre-arranged hot (post-snap) reads that both the QB and his receivers make.||Levels/Robber. Drop back in a 3-deep zone while rushing 5 (often the SLB/nickel). Robber reacts to runs/screens or replaces guy who blitzed for instant pick/scared QB.|
Read Passing (Air Raid, Pro)
Offensive Concept: Spread, mesh, read, and gun, so on any given play, at any spot on the field, we can put it where you ain't.
Defensive Concept: Anywhere you can get, I can get faster
|Rock||Spread to pass. The O-line is spread to basically neutralize line play (DL will break through eventually but seldom right away). Receivers run "mesh" routes against each other, then cut off their routes when they've recognized the D in order to find soft spots in the zone.||Cover-3 zone, trusting your LBs to intelligently route receivers and react and trusting the QB and WRs can't connect on all of their 7-yard passes and that soft spots are small.|
|Dynamite with a cut-able wick||Curls, and/or bubble screen whenever the defense is obviously backing off. Dana Holgorsen has altered this to delayed handoffs and screens by using two RBs and putting one in motion to simulate the spread.||3-5-3. The Air Raid threatens the whole field to open up the easy passes off of two crossing routes, so forget pass rushing and clog up the middle.|
|Scissors||(This is just mean) Four Verts: suddenly the deep receiver is no longer just a quick glance to keep you honest but a high-low with the seam.||Press man coverage/blitz up the middle.|
Option (Triple-Option, Zone Read)
Offensive Concept: Reverse the traditional 7-on-6 "numbers" advantage of the defense in the running game (i.e. their front 7 versus 5 OL and a running back) by having the quarterback participate, and "blocking" an edge defender by optioning off of him instead of wasting a body.
Defensive Concept: The cat has more patience than the mouse.
|Rock||Isolate an unblocked front-7 defender against the QB and another accessible option he can go to once the defender commits.||Change up the edge attack so the QB is reading the wrong guy or walking into a trap. Scrape exchange, slant the DL, etc.|
|Paper||Fake the option and then send a quick seam over the heads of the oncoming defenders.||Cheat extra defenders (8 or 9 in the box) into the area where the option will occur so nobody gets isolated and/or blitz into one of the options (e.g. CB blitz or MLB blitz into RB's hole) so unblocked guy can focus on one option.|
|Scissors||Option 3. This is the FB dive in a triple-option and the bubble screen in the spread 'n shred, and is a constraint called by alignment.||Line up "clean" with safeties still in coverage, and if they option do what you can to delay the decision and await the cavalry.|
Next time in this series: vanilla defenses, and the best offense for Michigan this year and beyond.
[Ed-S: Bumped on a light day]
For a few different reasons I decided not to use a grade scale because each player is given different responsibilities by line. Brian Lebler deserved an A because he exceeded expectations, but how do you differentiate his A and Carl Hagelin's? It also helps avoid any kind of backlash I might receive from a player who decides to take a look at what I wrote.
Pre-Season Expectations: Moderate/Low
Coming into the year Guptill was one of six freshman, his role was supposed to be checking for the next four years and here he is as your teams leading scorer.
Big Gup really came up big for the Wolverines as the season went along, becoming a balanced scorer and a huge presence in front of the net. He did not fall into the freshman slump like the others mostly because opponents refused to acknowledge that he was standing in front of the goal by himself, he was given as much space as he needed to tip and redirect pucks all season long.
Coming in labeled as a big man, Guptill showed that he also had college level stick skills from the start. A big man who can lead the rush is more than valuable to a team who loves to run the transition game.
Best Moment: The overtime goal that snapped a 7 game winless streak for Michigan against Alaska, the team would finish the season on a 12-3-3 run.
Pre-Season Expectations: High
The first diary I wrote about hockey was a pre-season preview, I thought that the hardest thing to replace from last years class was going to be the leadership of Matt Rust. We lost a gritty, hard working, team player but Chris Brown has stepped in and done a great job to fill the void.
Brownie provided the best defensive option of our forwards and was a well balanced player. He has great offensive skills, defensive ability, checking and leadership. He provided the anchor for a line that carried the Wolverines through the second half of the season and into the NCAA tournament.
Best Moment: Brown pulling the string on Miami defensemen Will Weber.
Pre-Season Expectations: Moderate
Looking deeper into the stats Wohlberg had a pretty good season statistically, he cut down penalty minutes drastically, improved his +/- by double digits and needs three points to match his career high. Posted a 194-192 record in the faceoff dot (.503%).
The contributions David brings to the team are invaluable, but they get a little overlooked being behind Brown and Guptill. His passing definitely was a major asset for the top line, as his 16 assists tied for team lead among forwards.
Best Moment: Named to the All-GLI team for his tourney preformance.
Pre-Season Expectations: High
It was an interesting season for Treais, who ended the season red hot but spent the first half shying away from the plays and not making much of an impact.
The Daily did a great article on A.J. and he talked about how much being over his playing weight effected his game. When he got himself back into shape he became a completely different player and the talk started to flow in about Treais finally becoming what Red always thought he could be.
After shifting the lines for the first half of the season, Treais fell into place with Di Giuseppe and Glendening to provide a reliable scoring option. He has passed his previous career highs in goals with 15 and points with 26, also improved his +/- by +15.
Best Moment: One timer snipe in overtime to send the Seniors out with a victory.
[After jump: The rest of the team]