at least it's not just us?
via reader Will; click for big
The committee decided to avoid the first round intraconference matchups like prescribed and skipped the obvious switch of 12 and 13 in PWR and gave Michigan that sweet, sweet bracket projected last weekend:
4. Air Force
BU, the overall #1 seed, got hosed and has to face Ohio State in the first round. Michigan is on ESPNU at 3PM Friday.
Some details on the opposition in Bridgeport:
The Falcons are only the second* non-power conference team to rank high enough in the pairwise to warrant an at-large bid, though they don't need it after winning the Atlantic Hockey autobid.
Air Force finished #14 in the final pairwise, was 27-10-5, and ranks #29 in KRACH. That's the fifth best record in the country but it came against the #51 schedule. (D1 hockey has but 58 teams.) Teams of interest near them in KRACH include #27 UNO, #31 Western Michigan, and #32 Michigan State: if Air Force plays at all like any of those teams Michigan should outshoot them at least 2-1.
However, the Air Force nonconference schedule is actually pretty respectable:
- Wins: Bemidji State (2), Colorado College
- Losses: Denver, Quinnipiac, Yale
Both the Quinnipiac and Yale games were competitive, with Yale getting a GWG at 13:22 of the third and Quinnipiac tacking on an ENG in a one-goal game in which Air Force outshot them nearly 2-1. Though I'm happier Michigan faces them than Miami or Ohio State, this is not a pushover.
If there's one guy you want to know at the academy it's Jacques Lamoureux, the nation's leading scorer with a 32-20-52 line. Should it bother you that the best player on a military academy's hockey team is so obviously French Canadian? Yes, except he's from North Dakota so no.
*(A nascent Niagara program snagged an at-large in 2000. Though they won the CHA, the conference hadn't been granted autobid status yet. Even more impressive: the tourney was only twelve teams then. More impressive yet: the Purple Eagles downed New Hampshire in the first round.)
Yale won the ECAC this year with a 15-5-2 conference record and then won the conference tourney to boot. This constitutes possibly the best season in Yale hockey history. They, too, have a swanky overall record (24-7-2) run up against questionable opposition (SOS #43), but their record is swanky enough and their opposition robust enough to see them slot in at #10 in KRACH.
This would be an excellent draw as Michigan's two-seed except that Vermont, the three-seed in the regional, is #6 in KRACH so it's a wash. Also, KRACH doesn't take scoring Margin into account, and even if Yale played a weak schedule they crushed it: they're #5 in scoring margin. Vermont is #19.
I have this image in my head of successful ECAC teams that will never leave: they have a huge French Canadian guy, a goalie with a save percentage above .920, a thudding, defensive style of hockey, and very little offensive pop except for one leetle guy that's like a version of TJ Hensick interested in going to an Ivy League school.
Yale comes up empty on the huge French Canadian but goalie Alec Richards is at a .926 save percentage and the Bulldogs strike it big with the little guys: four of Yale's top five scorers are listed at 5'9" or less, which means they probably average about 5'7". Don't let the low counting numbers deceive you: though Yale's leading scorers only have 35 points, Yale is an Ivy and plays fewer games than the rest of the country. They currently stand at 33; Michigan's up to 40.
As for the offensive pop: Yale's actually got a decent bit. They're eighth nationally in scoring offense, with six players above 0.8 PPG. One is junior defenseman Thomas Dignard, undoubtedly the PP quarterback, and the rest are young forwards. Yale has no seniors until you get to Patrick Brosnihan's eight points.
Okay, this is not a Cornell or Colgate or whoever, this is a small team with some talent in their sticks.
BONUS: HSR on Yale.
As noted above, math thinks Vermont is the favorite in the 2-3 matchup. The Catamounts were 20-11-5 against the #11 schedule, but instead of flailing about with numbers and goal differential and the like, how about a scouting report from a close observer?
This is from reader Corey Griffiths and far outstrips any knowledge I've got about Vermont:
My alma mater causes me to bleed Maize and Blue, but I have also been going to UVM hockey games since I was half a year old, so I am very much looking forward to the possibility of the two teams playing (for the first time ever?). I figured it might be nice to actually provide some sort of useful scouting report for you, or at least get you on the right track in the event that U-M has to play them Saturday night. Here's what I've got on my perspective:
Vermont has a couple guys you need to watch out for:
- Victor Stahlberg is arguably the best player on the team. He's solid mentally and appears to provide great leadership for the team. His puck skills and playing ability will likely translate well to the NHL, and he reminds me a little bit of a not as good version of Kevin Porter. He's not one of those players that you notice all that much necessarily, but you know something is going to happen when he's out there. I think he plays bigger than the 6-3, 210 he's listed at too. I expect M would probably be pretty good at defending him since I think he actually plays the most like the kind of player Red Berenson goes for.
- I played both with and against Peter Lenes all the way through high school, and his playing style has changed very little. At a generous 5-6 160, students will be tempted to go with the "dirty hobbit" chant, but I would advise against it given his ability to make you eat words. I've never seen a player with a quicker or more lightning-fast reaction time, and you can expect one or more moments where a Michigan player winds up losing the puck for reasons he doesn't quite comprehend. He also has a way of taking shots that aren't unexpected; his favorite move is skating away from the net along one of the sides and taking a sharp turn with a wrist shot right on goal. His accuracy can be deadly both on the forehand and the back hand are deadly, too. The positives for Michigan are that his size makes him easy to lock up if you're able to get a body on him. The last few games of Vermont's season have seen opponents somewhat effectively reduce him to a fixture along the boards.
- Dean Strong is one more player I would watch out for. He's clearly a leader on the team, and though I would only say he's a little above average in the skills department, he plays hard enough to make things happen. You might say he fits the definition of a blue-collar hockey player. M shouldn't have a problem defending him, but if they try to sit back and play dainty hockey as they have done in the past, they'll get burned by him. I feel like he's gone and gotten his helmet knocked off enough times this season that I could even recognize him on the street if I ran into him.
- Vermont has a strange way of acquiring very very good goalies, and Freshman Rob Madore isn't an exception. I would say his 0.911 save percentage and 2.36 GAA are slightly worse than how he is capable of playing. I'm no goalie expert so I'm not going to comment much on his ability, but he just has the feel of a goalie that you can trust to keep the puck out of the net. Usually when he gets scored on it's because one of the blue-liners in front of him got burned.
They forecheck physically (often unnecessarily so) and always scrap for the puck in the corners. They cycle the puck well, and are very good at getting the puck to the net to try and cause something. The goals generally aren't anywhere near as pretty as what you might see at Yost, but that's because a lot of the goals they get are a result of putting a bunch of traffic in front of the net and firing a shot off just to see what happens. Again, beware the Peter Lenes sneak attack and what I might call above average strength in breakaway situations.
Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to get excited over here. If UVM's forwards aren't having a good day they'll probably be counting on Madore to keep them in the game. Their strength I think comes on the power play, where they seem above average at being able to get the puck around to the right guys. Recently much has been made of the lack of defensive effort on the part of the entire team, and you can expect Kevin Sneddon will have spent the last two weeks trying to get them to improve significantly. Exploits: Brayden Irwin, a very large but pretty immobile player who inexplicably scores or makes a brilliant move every few games.
On the power play the Cats have a17.7% success rate, good for 4th in the conference. Vermont has a pretty crappy penalty kill rate (only 80%, 9th conf), but that's partially because they only have about 480 penalty minutes (compare that to Boston University's 767), so you could make a case for sample size. Either way, their penalty kill isn't so good.
don't know if they do it on purpose, but you can bet that this team will go into a hole if they have a lead with 5-7 minutes remaining in the game. They very obviously play a 1-4 forecheck, and the defensive zone coverage starts resembling a penalty kill. Their tendency towards this is not so good for them when combined with the fact that their defensive coverage isn't all that great to begin with. This has killed them in games against UNH and UMass Lowell recently.
Michigan plays a much more organized style of hockey, which should be interesting against Vermont because their 5-on-5 style is a bit more "dump it, get it and see what happens" (Expect a much cleaner game on their power play though). Michigan could get flustered by the Vermont's in-your-face style, or Vermont could find themselves getting picked apart by precision offensive plays.
Vermont fans are generally very good-natured and supportive of their team. The students have recently developed a taste for crappy cheers like the usually badly-timed and over-used—e.g., the "Hey, you suck!" chant during Rock and Roll Part II. As much as I love UVM, their band is almost comically awful at times, though they have a selection of music that can be fun. So yeah.. students are kind of lamely rude as far as fans go, but the general population should be kind.
Corey's done. Hi. I'm done, too, but here's the HSR post on the Catamounts.
Normally the start of spring practice would have been a bigger deal around here, but the basketball team's late season push and 21st-century tourney debut relegated the football team to the back burner, which is a first for this blog.
Yes, spring practice has started. Get a load of our new savior at the gun show:
Vernon Gholston's got nothing on Tate Forcier. At some point this year when Michigan is flailing about in a fashion reminiscent of well, last year, keep this image in mind and think "he's just a freshman" to yourself over and over again. Apparently Forcier spent 100% of his time getting quarterback tutoring and 0% of it picking things up and putting them down, which is all well and good until someone snaps him in half.
But, hey, the news isn't all bad. Friend of blog and practice attendee Craig Ross:
Forcier’s arm is stronger than I thought it would be. Most of the balls he threw looked pretty crisp. He looked terrific in the drills. Running right or left he puts the ball on the money. I didn’t see him throw a poor ball.
And of course there's the other guy:
I felt Nick Sheridan looked better than last year at this time.
Woo! A roundup of other items:
- Toney Clemons is gonzo. See the previous post.
- So is Andre Criswell. He'll be a grad assistant. He was a fifth year senior, so that doesn't change your scholarship projections for the 2010 class.
- Adam Patterson got his redshirt. He is now a junior, which removes a scholarship from the 2010 class and reduces the urgency at DT and DE. Michigan is still waiting on word about Kenny Demens. That should be a formality
- Mouton and Shaw aren't participating. Also, Tim McAvoy has been out with an ankle issue. Ricky Barnum has a wrist issue he's playing through.
- Steve Schilling is probably moving to guard and Patrick Omameh is legit. Intermittent friend of blog and general correspondent Craig Ross has attended some of the sections of practice open to the media and reports that the apparent first-team offensive line reads like so from left to right, with changes from last year bolded: Ortmann, Schilling, Molk, Moosman, Omameh.
Ross elaborates: "I was told by one media guy that Schilling asked for the move and so far it has worked out. RR talked briefly to the media and said that it seems likely "Schilling will stay at guard." Barnum is running at LG with the second team---or was this AM at least."
That fits with the practice buzz over the last year that had Barnum and Omameh closest to the field amongst the freshmen; you can pencil Omameh in at RG in 2010 if you want to get seriously premature.
Things That Are As Factual As Rosters Ever Get
- Anthony LaLota is pretty small. He's listed at 6'4", 235, which is not ready for primetime on the defensive line. Redshirt beckons.
- Junior Hemingway is crushing your head. 6'1", 226. Dang, man, hope you can still run.
- Vince Helmuth is on the Gabe Watson diet. Helmuth got up to 299, which probably bodes unwell for his shot at playing time. VB noted he looked "tiny for a DT," which means he'd be better served being quick instead of flabtacular. Rodriguez made a comment about his conditioning at the press conference. Sounds like he's unlikely to see the field.
- Kenny Demens seems field-ready. The roster has him at 237; at 6'1" that's pretty hefty.
- Smith: quarkback. We got ourselves another kid who can do a credible impression of Paper Mario: 5'6", 158 pound Vincent Smith. Hopefully this one doesn't get concussed into oblivion.
Position switches, or not position switches, or things that may or may not be position switches
- Brandon Hawthorne is running with the defensive backs. I said he was safety-sized, but I didn't actually expect he would be a safety. Blip or serious "what?" moment? Eh… survey says blip. Varsity Blue attended a Rodriguez presser at which the headman said Hawthorne is expected to be an outside linebacker.
This is more fuel for the fire of this spread-combating LB/S hybrid sort, FWIW.
- Ferrara is still on the OL. Given the sudden reversal in depth on the two lines—the defense has seen two starters depart and two recruits fail to sign while the offense gets six-count-em-six redshirt freshmen to play with—this may not last. But word is the coaching staff likes Ferrara's potential on offense more than they do on defense; a switch back would be an ominous indicator about the defensive line.
- Stevie Brown is sort of a linebacker. This will meet widespread joy, I'm sure, though it does beg the question "who the hell is going to play safety?"
- Steve Watson is doing okay at DE. I still think he's a longshot to contribute what with the move and all, but he's a high motor individual.
Something Not Particularly Fact-Like
You might remember defensive ends like James Hall and Juaquin Feazell—who should be referenced whenever the opportunity arises just so you can say "Juaquin Feazell" as mellifluously as possible—being listed as the "RLB" or "rush linebacker" during the heyday of Jim Herrmann's tenure at defensive coordinator. These folks were no more linebackers than your average defensive end. That nomenclature was a holdover from days when Michigan did actually have a "rush linebacker" that lived on long after Michigan had departed from the land of the hybrid 3-4.
This style of defense has worked in the Big Ten recently. You may remember Penn State deploying one of its many, many talented linebackers as a standup DE in a year when injury and malfeasance had robbed them of their standard complement of edge-rushing terrors. I think it was 2006. Though it was an ad-hoc solution to a severe personnel deficiency, at the end of the year Penn State's defense occupied its customary position near the top of the Big Ten rankings.
Word around practice is that Michigan is going to adopt something similar, with a lighter DE dubbed the "spinner" who can move around and play with his hand down or up. Or at least they're practicing it to see if it's a good idea.
Persons you might see do this: Steve Watson is practicing there along with a couple of the thicker linebackers—Evans and LaLota have been mentioned. This corresponds with other rumors to the effect that Adam Patterson and Ryan Van Bergen may end up as three-tech (i.e., penetrating) DT sorts, if not permanently than on an occasional basis.
Of course, this could all be declared a bad idea and shelved before fall until the Purdue game. But it's worth knowing.
The writing was on the wall for a while on this one, and recent reports that Toney Clemons wasn't at spring practice were the clincher. He's out:
"I had a long talk with (Rodriguez) and he wasn't too happy with me leaving," Clemons said. "I just don't want to play in a spread offense. This is best for me as an athlete."
Clemons had 12 catches last year as he was shoehorned into the slot behind Martavious Odoms; that move boded unwell. Clemons, at 6'3", is not your typical slot and Michigan was struggling to get production outside.
Michigan will go with Greg Mathews, Darryl Stonum, and Junior Hemingway on the outside; Odoms returns and will be joined by freshmen Terrance Robinson, who redshirted last year, and Jeremy Gallon.
One of the great complaints about Michigan football as conceived under Lloyd Carr was its distinct funereal air. I was a Carr proponent in many things, but at times it seemed like he barely tolerated the fandom that paid his salary.
This on display most obviously when it came to the spring "game," which Carr canceled a couple times due to stadium construction and downplayed at all other times. Never in its history was it, like, an event, and that seemed like a missed opportunity to have some fun. You know… "fun"? Ah, hell, forget it.
Rodriguez likes fun:
In hopes of enhancing Michigan’s annual spring football game, the athletic department will offer additional activities this year, including a flag football game featuring former U-M players.
The hour-long event, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. April 11 at Michigan Stadium, will feature former U-M head coach Gary Moeller coaching the maize squad and longtime assistant Jerry Hanlon coaching the blue team.
On Friday, the athletic department announced that fans will be able to tour the Michigan locker room and take photos from 8-10 a.m.
The cheerleaders and the band will be involved last year, unlike previous ones.
Rodriguez wants to break the all-time attendance record for the spring game. This is going to take some doing. Some showmanship. And so forth and so on. Even attempting such a thing will transform the Spring Game from a sleepy thing attended mostly by diehards into something that fosters a connection with the program. I am enthused and grateful for this sort of thing.
HOWEVA, an email:
I just happened to catch Rich Rodriguez at UMDM on the live video at www.umdm.org. He mentioned this: (allow me some room for error, I don't have a recording)
"We want to make the Big House the most electric atmosphere in the nation. We're obviously gonna keep the band involved, and we're gonna try and play a little music, do a few new things with the scoreboard and stuff like that."
Feel free to interpret that as you will, but I'm worried about a little sparty creeping into the Big House...
Yikes. This is the flip side of that coin. It's not easy to protest this sort of thing without emitting a "get off my lawn, kids(!)" air, but: dude, seriously, get off the lawn you hippies.
An attempt: one of the most powerful things that forges a fan community is the shared culture that naturally arises when you can say things like "one second left against Penn State" and know that the person you're talking to is thinking and feeling the exact same thing you are. It sets the group apart. This apart-ness is fundamental to the passion sports fans experience: it's us and them, and the more us our us is and the more them their them is, the more important the thing beneath us seems.
Michigan has a lot of culture. That, fundamentally, is its main asset. From that culture flows the passion, and from that passion flows the money. Part of that culture is a public address announcer who embodies neutral gravitas. Part of it is the lack of advertising in the stadium. And part of that is the way the game is presented inside the stadium, with no "NoISe!!!" signs or plastic chariots or electromagic Spartys with frickin' eye lasers.
I like it like that. I like my church with incense and deceased Jesus, my Christmas carols by Bing Crosby, and my Michigan Stadium without frickin' eye lasers.
It's safe to say I'm torn about what's going on here. I'd like it if the spring game was a game. And if it was worth going to. But that's not worth making Michigan Stadium chintzy. Any stadium experience revamp should be made with Michigan's existing culture in mind.
For example: Michigan debuted a hype video for the first time ever this year. It was fine. I thought it was pretty good. But it could have been a hype video for just about any school that had so few offensive seniors it had to drag Mike Massey into things. It would have been much better if it had taken some Michigan themes and integrated them. One such change: instead of "I am Michigan," or whatever, have people say "the team." There: done. Bo invoked, Michigan-specific, hurray.
Go ahead and change things, but please have a delicate hand. Let's not rush to join the great sweaty mass of brahs all around us. Let's not toss away something unique.
STAYING PUT: DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris said they will be back next year, Sims for his senior year and Harris for his junior season, putting off the chance at a pro career.
"I never even have thought about it," Harris said.
Awesome; expectations are now pegged at a tourney return at the least.
The news about the News:
The Ann Arbor News will close in July and will be replaced by a Web-based, media company called AnnArbor.com, Laurel Champion, publisher of The News, announced in a 9 a.m. meeting with staff.
Ah but not so fast: the "web based company" will be run by the same people, hire some of the same people, and put out print editions twice a week plus print a "total market coverage" thing, whatever that means, once a week. This is basically a rehash of the Free Press/News changes with some extra frippery I assume is a way of avoiding Booth Newspaper's longstanding no-layoffs pledge. Or something else that has to do with financial wizardry. In any case, the way the story is framed—by the newspaper itself!—is a little dramatic.
If you're interested in some serious back and forth sniping, check out Jim Carty's blog. Journo commenters can't just call you a d-bag, they have to write an article-length comment to do it. Fun for the whole family.
As for the Michigan sports upshot… eh. Chances are the new web-based company will focus about as much on Michigan sports as the existing newspaper; they'll actually have more motivation to do so as an online-oriented product.
I did love that mere days after interviewing Dylan of UMHoops for a story that mentioned he authored a Michigan basketball blog but didn't link to or even name it, the News managed to cram no fewer than eight links to their new URL in the story announcing the News' demise. Dips. I'm nofollowing links to the Ann Arbor News for the next week, starting with the above.
The above amply demonstrates that the current leadership of the News is extraordinarily ill-prepared to make this transition. They fail to understand the currency of the internet, that linking out spurs linking in. Trying to trap readers in a box made of a million holes is archaic; I wonder how long it will take for someone to thwack Unfrozen Caveman Newspaper Exec in the back of the head and stage a coup.
(Sorry if the tag seems insensitive; it's just what media discussion goes under around these parts.)
3/21/2009 – Michigan 63, Oklahoma 73 – 21-14, 9-9 Big Ten
The narrative of Michigan's basketball season was one of gritty, gutty, Eckstein-like overachievement, what with walk-ons at point guard and a 6'4" freshman at power forward and mismatched pieces in many places. It's not like this was a secret. I've typed "walk-ons at point guard" and "6'4" freshman power forward" probably a dozen times over the past couple months, often with exclamation points(!) in proximity.
But series finales are often overwrought things that take thematic overtones and bash them into your forehead, so Michigan drew the most un-Eckstein of opponents: Oklahoma and their THOG SMASH team. Then Manny Harris disappeared—maybe he's an angel—five minutes into the game and was replaced by Anthony Wright.
Wright proceeded to grit his way into 12 first-half points and Michigan went in behind by a single point at the half. They would have had a lead if not for the demands of the narrative, which caused them to blow a couple of easy fast break opportunities and the front-end of a one-and-one that would have pushed their lead to something substantial.
Halftime was spent in shocked contemplation of what had transpired. A brief attempt to calculate the probability of "Anthony Wright is Michigan's leading scorer at halftime of a second-round NCAA tourney game and the team is down one" was abandoned when one particular exponent was too large to fit in a 32-bit integer. A similar calculation for "Manny Harris plays five minutes in the first half and the team is down one" met a similar fate. ("Tim Brando is an abomination" came out to 1.)
So all this was clearly too good to be true, and Michigan duly proved that at the beginning of the second half when Harris emerged from the bench. But just as reality set in and began to harden, CJ Lee took a bite of his grit sandwich and gritted a gritty pair of gritballs, which in gritspeak are three pointers, three being the grittiest number and "balls" being the grittiest way to say "points."
Calculations begun! And hastily abandoned when Oklahoma threw it into Griffin and someone looked sideways at him and was whistled. Or something. Michigan loses, exeunt season.
And so. Here we are. This is going to be an embarrassing confession, but I remember standing in Crisler Arena on another Senior Day a few years ago and choking up a bit as the names along the lines of Chris Young were announced and the whatnot went on.
And I remember thinking that they should retire Lavell Blanchard's jersey, if only for sucking it up and staying home and enduring all the stuff you had to endure during that portion of Michigan's basketball history. At that point, anyone who managed to stay in school for four years without beating anyone with a belt or rolling an SUV or being Gavin Groninger seemed like a hero. I wanted to credit Blanchard with changing the culture of the program.
He actually which he may have done this, but the culture instituted was just a different kind of horrible. A much, much less horrible kind of horrible, but horrible just the same.
Thanks to Anthony Wright, we've all permanently lost our ability to criticize Beilein's rotation. This means we have to consider the walk-ons, and consider what it means when Jerrett Smith is deposited on Grand Valley State's bench and Kelvin Grady on Michigan's in favor of the above-pictured. In Smith's case, it just means he's bad at basketball. In Lee's case it just means he's better than Grady.
In Merritt's case… well. Merritt brought very little on the floor. His playing time is most easily interpreted as a rebuke to whatever Grady was doing that Beilein hated. Merritt is the culture Beilein wants, and he's going to get it, but a half-foot taller and able to pass and maybe score more than a couple points a game. This is just the end of the beginning.
- Michigan fans can't even assert that it was Harris' two quick fouls that doomed them since the guy soaking up the vacated playing time was Wright.
- As obliquely referred to above: Michigan had an opportunity to push its lead out to seven or eight points in the first half, which would have made the final, post-CJ-Lee-apocalypse minutes frenetic as hell. But they blew two fast breaks when guys pushing up the floor just had to catch the ball and lay it up, one of which led to a fast break the other way, and Douglass clanked the front end of a one and one. That's probably a seven-point swing,—you have to credit Oklahoma with about a point for their possession—enough to turn that five point deficit that was the closest Michigan came after their disastrous first few minutes of the second half into a two point lead.
These are the kind of opportunities you have to take if you're the ten seed, I think.
- I see I wasn't the only one to dub Griffin's treatment the Full Tebow. What perfect misfortune to draw the loathsome Tim Brando for this game. I mentioned this on Saturday, but at one point when it was declared Griffin had a "quiet" 30-15 I enjoyed a brief, dark laugh.
- The 400 shots of Griffin's parents may have made me want to claw my eyes out but at least they explained that weird ginger ubermensch effect going on. Over and over again. In the most annoying way possible.
- Also explained: why Griffin's opponents occasionally suplex him. He, Devendorf, and Vasquez should let their powers combine ("Ginger!" "Domestic Violence!" "Inadvisable Media Handling!") to summon forth Captain Douchebag.
Well, that sucked, all of it. My favorite part was the foul on a box out. My second favorite part was the color guy saying Griffin had a "quiet" 32 and 15 or whatever when the announcing team couldn't go 15 seconds without suggesting Griffin be elected president of Awesomeonia. My third favorite part was death in the CCHA tournament.
But at least the other results in college hockey tonight fell in such a way that the most likely bracket facing Michigan tomorrow is:
4. Air Force
So there's that.
So: Oklahoma, possessor of the most terrifying quasi-ginger manbeast* in college basketball lo these many years, comes up against Michigan, possessor of exactly two guys over 6'5", only one of whom plays at a time. Yipes.
Though Kenpom's taking a beating in this year's tournament, it's worth noting that Oklahoma, at 15, is a weak 2-seed in according to the numbers. This is more like a 4-13 matchup than a 2-10. Which I have no idea whether that's better or worse. Given what happens with 4-13 games, we have around a 25% shot, which is about what Kenpom says anyway. FWIW, Oklahoma was only the third-best team in the Big 12 in terms of efficiency margin, finishing behind Kansas and Missouri.
*(I couldn't find a picture that showed it well. I am of the opinion that Griffin is pigmented oddly in a way that I can't put a finger on but is definitely ginger-esque.)
Michigan Offense vs Oklahoma Defense
Two pointers. Oklahoma's extremely good at defending them, 17th nationally at 42.3%, and extremely good at avoiding opponent trips to the line. Continuing a theme, the Sooners get a lot of blocks: 11.4%, 51st nationally.
Three pointers. Oklahoma gives up an average percentage but allows slightly more threes than the average bear.
Possession advantage. The one glaring deficiency on the Oklahoma resume is turnover percentage, at which they languish in the 300s. Opponents just don't turn the ball over, probably because Oklahoma's defense is considerably less in-your-face than that of Clemson or whoever. That makes sense. They can just funnel drivers to Griffin and rely on their outstanding two-point FG defense and rebounding to do the work without getting in foul trouble. This explains the FTA/FGA, too. Don't expect a whole lot of ball denial on the outside.
That defensive rebounding, by the way, is good but not outstanding. They're 119th, which is above average, but for a power conference team that plays a significant portion of its schedule against weaker schools it's probably just average when adjusted for opponent difficulty.
Well? Given Michigan's profile we should expect few turnovers, a ton of threes attempted, very few trips to the line, and the occasional offensive rebound. Sounds like any other Michigan game, actually. Key matchup is Sims versus Griffin; Michigan's going to need more than what Sims provided against Clemson, and it'll be interesting to see what happens if the Sooners try to play man to man and Sims drags Griffin out of the paint. The outside shooting threat Sims provides could seriously limit Griffin's effectiveness on the defensive end.
Oklahoma Offense vs Michigan Defense
Oh, lordy. While Michigan's offense has a decent chance of working just fine, the offensive numbers are intimidating.
Two pointers. Oklahoma makes 56% of its twos, fourth nationally, thanks to Griffin. He's hitting 64% of his twos(!). Oklahoma also has a huge FTA/FGA ratio that is also fourth nationally—they take a bunch of free throws. This is also thanks to Griffin, who is #1 nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. This is probably not news, but: Blake Griffin is good.
Three pointers. Oklahoma's slightly above average at hitting 'em and slightly above average at taking 'em, likely symptomatic of opponents collapsing down on that Griffin guy and leaving open shots for the guys on the perimeter.
Possession advantage. IE: turnovers plus offensive rebounds plus free throw percentage. This is where it gets dicey. Oklahoma's slightly above average at taking care of the ball and pretty good but not obliteratingly good on the offensive boards: they rebound 36.5 of their misses, good for 52nd.
The somewhat good news is that all those free throws taken aren't hugely efficient. Unlike Manny Harris, Michigan's main source of FTs, Griffin has an encouragingly crappy time of it at the free throw line, shooting just 59%. Yes, this means that Griffin averages 1.28 points on an average shot and 1.18 points on an average trip to the line and sort of implies that Eric Puls should see the floor and foul out as quickly as possible, but that's before taking turnovers and stuff into account. It's probably close, though.
What do you do with this stuff? It doesn't appear that Oklahoma crushes the boards quite as much as Clemson did against Michigan. Aside from Griffin, who's an absolute vacuum defensively and very good offensively, they've got one other guy who plays much and hits the boards, and he's 6'7".
As far as Griffin goes, I guess you have to front him, double him constantly, prevent him from getting the ball, and possibly give him a ninja suplex to stop him. Any Michigan player with spare fouls should use them liberally should Griffin find himself in an advantageous position. Michigan's status as a team that uses a few different zones should help limit the damage Griffin can do, as they can switch between a few different defenses and confuse entry passes and the like from Oklahoma's young and not that great guards.
Slidin', again. Michigan may be fortunate to have run across a team that, like Clemson, is sliding a bit as the season comes to an end. Oklahoma finished its year by losing four of six, including an opening-game loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tourney. I wouldn't get too excited, though: all of those losses game to quality tournament teams and only the Kansas game was at home. This is not analogous to Clemson's situation, which saw the Tigers drop games against the likes of Georgia Tech.
Coachin'. The Beilein-as-tourney-mastermind meme continues with another upset for his hall of heads, albeit against the active coach with the worst PASE score in all the land. Jeff Capel doesn't have much of a record, but it's better than Oliver Purnell's:
- 2004: Capel gets VCU in as a 13 seed, where they lose to #4 Wake Forest by a single point.
- 2008: Oklahoma makes the field as a 6, handily beating St Joseph's in the first round before getting clubbed by Louisville 78-48.
Capel went to Duke, for whatever that's worth. Anger about someone else getting a good coach from Duke? General anger about the white Devils? I don't know.
Common Opponent. There was just one: Oklahoma beat Purdue 87-82.
The General Feeling Of Foreboding
Yeah, I've got it too. Or, rather, I've got it as much as anyone can have it when you're dealing with this Michigan basketball team that has exceeded expectations so massively.
Michigan finds itself facing a team poised to exploit their greatest weakness. I mean…
For being a scout team player that saw all of 20 minutes of floor time this season, Eric Puls got plenty of attention Friday afternoon.
The 6-foot-10-inch University of Michigan redshirt freshman played the role of Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin during Friday's practice session at the Sprint Center as the Wolverines prepared for tonight's NCAA Tournament South Regional test against the No. 2-seeded Sooners.
…greatest weakness, man. I am racking my brain for things Eric Puls has in common with Blake Griffin and can come up with two: being 6'10" and having a cardiovascular system.
Playing man to man against Griffin is a recipe for points on your face and Michigan is going to have to do that after misses and turnovers, though thankfully there probably won't be much in the way of turnovers. They don't even have the post depth to foul freely.
I can see Michigan staying in the game for a while, but I can also see that one deadly Oklahoma run that pushes a close game to an eight or ten point gap all too clearly. This is probably it, but hey: okay.
Bad news first: we aren't going to Grand Rapids. Thanks, CCHA!
Now, the good news: Duluth won last night and Minnesota's chances of making the tournament are extremely slim. Even better, the two last teams in the tourney in some scenarios are Miami and Ohio State. Unless the committee does something unprecedented like seed-switching or scheduling intraconference first-round games, they'd be forced to hand Michigan a first-round matchup against a small-conference autobid. Even even better, the two-seed in Michigan's bracket in virtually all scenarios is Yale. Yale's had a great year but ECAC teams rarely reach the Frozen Four.
This seems to be what we're looking at if all favorites win:
1. Michigan (#4 overall)
4. Air Force (#15 overall)
2. Yale (#5 overall)
3. Minnesota Duluth (#12 overall)
No offense to any of those teams, but that's a great draw.
Now… there are some nasty combinations, like Duluth winning the WCHA and Cornell the ECAC and the consolation games going right, that slide Minnesota into the tournament. If Air Force wins the CHA, these have the Gophers the #15 team with Air Force in front of them, at which point the committee has a difficult decision between listening to the silly pairwise and giving ND a game at Minnesota or flipping the seeds and shipping Michigan. Which they'd probably do.
I'm sorry to report that Michigan has virtually no control over its fate at this point. Unless there's some wack combination out there I haven't come across Michigan is going to be the last #1 seed no matter what happens against Notre Dame. And it appears that Yale is locked in at #5. There will be considerable jitter in the three and four seeds in Michigan's regional, though.
- Michigan is almost definitely the last #1.
- Yale is almost definitely their #2.
- Grand Rapids is gone.
- Wack stuff can happen at 3 and 4.