Slidin' in your DMs like... Via Ace:
Oh, no reason. Wolverine Historian with a two-part Harbaugh tribute:
Hire this man. I would seriously give Ryan Van Bergen a job in the athletic department today:
"In my opinion, and this is going to upset some people, there have been times last three, four years, the environment has been almost toxic with the negativity surrounding the program," Van Bergen said.
"Everything about Michigan poises it for success. The things that obviously are contributing to our recent misfortunes have nothing to do with if we're able to recruit and our facilities. There is blame to be shared among everybody — players, coaching, administration and fans. Everybody who supports the Michigan program needs to evaluate how they're doing it. If they're being negative about it, change that."
Van Bergen has credibility as a guy who's been under all three of the recent regimes, was willing to tell it how it was when Hoke was there, had a superior senior year under Hoke, and will be honest about the issues facing the program even if they're inconvenient.
One less way we can differentiate ourselves from Ohio. This is potentially lame:
Michigan student-athletes at public universities would not be allowed to unionize under state collective bargaining laws if a bill introduced Tuesday in the Michigan House of Representatives becomes law.
House Bill 6074 would require all student-athletes be classified as “students” and keep them from becoming employees of universities. Because the student-athletes could not be classified as public employees, they would not be entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under state law.
I'm not sure if that's the way the law-type thing works. Seems like work is work and a legislature can't wave a wand and declare it not so, but I'm just a common sense type guy, not a law-talkin' one. The guy who sponsored this legislation has the usual mish-mash of non-sequiturs—most college athletes don't go pro in their chosen sport—and false dichotomies—is college about getting an education or making money—in its defense, and I dislike him.
Well, yeah. Fred Jackson in the aftermath:
"I expected a decision to be made today, but I didn't know which way it was going, one way or the other, I had no idea," Jackson said reporters. "I didn't really expect it. I know we didn't play as well as people would like to see us play. I also understand that it's all about winning and losing.
"We didn't win enough games."
Ah, Fred. In four sentences he says 1) he had no idea, 2) he didn't expect it, and 3) they didn't win enough games. Truly a closing statement worthy of a man with sixteen different beverages on his desk, telling you that every back he ever coached was Adrian Peterson on top of a surly dinosaur.
Engineers in the marching band, you say? I am subscribing to your newsletter.
Nooooooo. David Jones has an entertaining article on the enormous, ridiculous Land Grant trophy, which is just getting to the age where its ridiculousness is a real asset instead of a detriment. Jones details its origin story…
When Hoffman picked up the shiny new Land Grant Trophy from a local Lansing sporting goods shop in 1993, he realized it wasn't quite what he'd pictured:
"I thought, 'My God, that's big.' I'll take the blame for it being so big and heavy," said Hoffman when reached on Tuesday in Cleveland where he's in semi-retirement.
The shop owner, whose name escapes Hoffman 21 years later, had taken all of the specifications and come up with something like a paneled rec room from the 1970s with knickknacks and photos attached to it – a Nittany Lion figurine mailed by Thalman, a Sparty gladiator statuette, a generic gold football player tacked on top, photos of Old Main and MSU's counterpart building – all built into a boxy wooden structure. And it had these decks and levels built onto it, like a committee kept deciding to add more stuff.
…and then suggests the thing might not be long for this world:
Alas, I come to you today with a heavy heart. Because I've been informed by powers greater than I that the end may be near for the LGT. For many of us, we'll feel as if an old friend is moving away. A particularly ugly old friend. It's going to be like comedians saying goodbye to Dan Quayle.
But Penn State officials have, as officials like to say today, "reached out" to Michigan State officials about the future viability of the LGT, "moving forward." When you have a traveling trophy, it's probably best that it can be transported in something other than the bed of a semi-tractor trailer.
To which I say fie. The Land Grant trophy may be the ugly duckling of the trophy world, but it has a charm the "Freedom Trophy" lacks. Keep it.
I know problems. You have problems. Interesting Tim Kawakami article on the dysfunction in the 49ers front office, which is far from all Harbaugh:
York doesn’t like talking to the local media (but Harbaugh’s camp is sure York loves secretly talking to the national media and I can’t disagree with Harbaugh’s camp on that).
Baalke despises almost all media–Baalke really doesn’t like most people, period. He’s a pure scout, cold, clipped, anti-social and often angry.
That works tremendously in the film room or out on the road scouting (Baalke probably is on the road more than any GM in the NFL), but maybe not so well when personalities and philosophies have to be managed.
Oh, and you might’ve heard that Harbaugh is volatile and occasionally crazed. That Harbaugh actually likes it better when things are rattled and people are on edge, all the better to find out what his associates are made of.
Well, Harbaugh has found out exactly what York and Baalke are made of. And they’ve made their decision on him.
Good luck with that, guys.
Etc.: Player react twitter roundup. Almost all about how Hoke was a great dude without any shots at the decision or fanbase. Timely M Heritage article about dudes against football back in the day. Orson goes to Tallahassee. At least Hoke recruited really well. Tinder trolling is now a thing.
Meta: New interim column name is interim. Rhymes with "talkin' points" if you have a heavy Midwest accent. Hakn means to nag in Yiddish, literally to bang on […a pot or teakettle]. The reference.
Every touch is a little bit of magic. [Fuller]
Early last month Brian forwarded me a reader question about the relative experience of Michigan's players, and asked for a lot of research:
What has been the average age and game experience of each of the teams’ skill groups over the course of the season for each of Hoke’s years coaching here?
I’d love to see a table or graph that showed age/game experience by skill group by year of tenure for all the skill groups. Just data.
Everyone says – players aren’t developing. I’m not sure whether it’s true or a function of getting better but younger less experienced guys on the field.
My impression Defense is improving – and that’s where Hoke started recruiting (if memory serves) – those are some of his third year guys now (still juniors and RS Sophs) – getting better all the time. Offense – a year behind defense from age/experience. Mostly Sophs and RS Fresh. If that pattern is right and holds, a defense of 4th and 3rd year guys next year and an offense of 3rd and second year guys should continue to improve the product. No?
Off the cuff, we were plotting out age progression of Hoke's recruiting classes back in 2012 (when most of the 2013 class was signed) and concluding that 2015 was the probable germination point. I think a big part of why Hoke was let go was Michigan doesn't at all seem on track for that to happen. As Hackett mentioned in his press conference, the 2015 team should be one of the most experienced we've fielded in memory across the board (provided there's no mass exodus, which is hardly a guarantee).
Yay for Good News! How Good's Our GNews?
To get a real answer I really think we'd need other teams to compare it with, and that's way too much work. Also not all positions are created equal and relative experience does not say how quality the experienced players are: the 2003 and 2005 teams were nearly identical, but the 2003 was one of the best under Lloyd while the latter we thought of at the time as painful. Deciding which positions mature at what rate and have which effect of outcome is beyond the scope of this study. But I found two ways to approximate an answer:
1) Long ago I started keeping a spreadsheet of players, going back to the mid-'90s, with what years they were on the roster, when they left, and why. With some updating that was able to produce a list of how many scholarship players Michigan had available each year back to '97, broken up by year-in-program and eligibility and whatnot. By that count Michigan has the oldest team in 2015 in the post-championship era, with 85 accumulated years (average at UM for 1997-2014 is 68) since high school on offense and 83 (average is 61) on defense.
2) I scoured the Bentley team history pages (the links at the right on that page), for how many starts each player had. This turned out to be quite the rabbit hole, hence why it took me so long to produce a response. After fixing a bazillion duplicates and spelling errors and whatnots (like for example they have the Gordons mixed up), I had a list of starts by season of every Michigan player going back to 1994, which I've put on Google Docs for your perusal.
There's some other good tabs at that link if you like exploration.
[Money chart and more after the jump]
All Harbaugh photos are hilarious
HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH. More NFL people saying no one ever leaves the NFL. Since these guys are all talking to NFL people that's not a surprise; it is a fact that he is telling his Michigan guys that he's seriously thinking about it. A bunch of people telling each other things they want to hear; won't have any clarity on it until there's a signature and a press conference. Steve Lorenz had an interesting quote in a considerably larger piece that sums it up($):
One source we've talked to extensively regarding Harbaugh had the following to say: "Jim can be a flake. That will be the major concern for Michigan. Anything at this juncture saying he's not interested is a smokescreen. His father, and both he and his brother, have a ton of respect for Brady Hoke and would not want to make it appear publicly like Jim is taking his job from him. From their end, they will want this process to appear as quiet as possible."
Whether Harbaugh flaked on Brandon or wisely avoided a guy he knew he couldn't work with is
in the eye of the beholder obviously the former. That was posted smack dab in the middle of Hoke's firing, so the quote was addressing a situation that no longer holds. We may see some definitively yes or no action in the near future.
And I know people are inclined to discount Jeff Moss because he's never found a bomb he didn't want to throw, but he did have the Brandon firing presser before anyone, AFAIK, and his Michigan connect tells him that M will go after Harbaugh with many dollars and boxes of khakis:
The DetroitSportsRag has learned that the University of Michigan has offered their former quarterback and current San Francisco 49ers head coach a financial package that would make him the highest paid football coach in the world.
I doubt that, frankly. But there's been enough other chatter about how Michigan understands that this is a situation where spending marginally more money on the new guy will pay off in spades for me to believe that they're not going to come at Harbaugh with an offer that isn't at least top 5 college money.
ON MULLEN. Clint Brewster told the Michigan 24/7 site that he talked to three different college coaches over the weekend and all of them brought Mullen up as the guy who makes the most sense.
If Hackett's serious about demolishing the Michigan Man thing he's got to kick the tires there—ask about the QB grayshirt, MSU's tendency to recruit 30+ guys every year*, find out if he's going to be able transition to a very different style of recruiting. I'd think he'd be able to adjust better than Rodriguez. His previous stops at ND, BGSU, Utah, and Florida give him significantly more diverse experience than RR had. Florida's not Michigan (they take JUCOs) in terms of restrictions but they're certainly a lot closer to M than Mississippi State is, and then Utah and ND are close enough to M that there's not much difference.
*[A lot of those are sign-and-place JUCO deals because of the Bulldogs' status as the low man on the SEC totem pole, so the oversigning concerns are significantly fewer than those numbers imply.]
WHY GUNDY MIGHT BE AVAILABLE. This would still be a longshot, RR-ish secret mission type thing, but it is vaguely possible. Why? The last few days have seen the rumblings about discontent in the Oklahoma State program hit the papers:
If there were a device that could measure stress, Gundy would have buried the needle. I’ve covered more than 220 Gundy news conferences. There were times when he wasn’t very excited to be there, and there was one time – during the 2007 “I’m a man! I’m 40!” news conference – when he was really excited. Monday was different. I’ve never seen him like he was on Monday. …
I believe that 98 percent of the Gundy stress centers on his issues with Boone Pickens. I’m sure some of the stress is related to the current performance of his football team. Since OSU beat Baylor last year – in a performance that was as complete as there’s ever been by any Gundy team – the Cowboys are 5-8. In its last seven meetings with ranked opponents, OSU is winless.
That comes in the aftermath of a press conference in which Gundy spent a lot of time looking at his phone. Also:
Boone Pickens doesn’t run OSU football. Boone’s influence on the program has been greatly overstated. We know that because if it was up to Boone, Mike Gundy wouldn’t be the Cowboy football coach. …
Boone obviously doesn’t care for Gundy, Gundy expresses no concern that Boone doesn’t care for him, and everyone who cares about Cowboy football wonders how long this can go on.
This is followed with some conflicting information about how on the one hand you "couldn't run Gundy off with a shotgun" and on the other Pickens's disdain for Gundy arose when he poked around the Tennessee job.
That's why you call… just in case. Small chance anything happens other than "nope," but if Oklahoma State loses Bedlam it might be time for a jump. Stranger things have happened. Like…
UNDERWHELMING AND WEIRD. Jeremy Foley flew Florida's plane to Fort Collins in full view of the Flight Aware-monitoring public and was rewarded with a crowd consisting of every member of the sports media within 500 miles. He went to Jim McElwain's house; media members knocked on the door and were surprised they didn't get an answer, and then they had serious conversations without even drawing the blinds.
— John Leyba (@Presto89) December 3, 2014
The good news: Jeremy Foley has never done anything remotely criminal in his life. You can tell because he's not in jail. The bad news: he's hiring a decidedly B-list target who's only had three years of head coaching experience and rode an anomalous talent, Dee Hart, to a 10-2 Mountain West season. The MW is not quite the MAC but this feels more like hiring Darrell Hazell than it should for Florida. Darell Hazell with a $7.5 million dollar buyout they "might" be able to bargain down if CSU is feeling generous for some reason. (Florida @ CSU? Might be happening.)
At least it's not Josh McDaniels?
Let us now reflect on what a miracle it is that Dave Brandon got fired what with Jeremy Foley's job not under a whisper of pressure. It takes a truly exceptional man to get axed from an AD job.
SO THEN WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT MICHIGAN? Unless Foley is truly bonkers he called the Pattersons and Shaws and such of the world and was turned down. I would assume that anyone who isn't clearly available is not available; Mullen is an exception because of personal animosity.
OOOH. Matt Hinton's rundown of the open Florida, Nebraska, and Michigan jobs doesn't have any news in it that Michigan diehards aren't aware of, but his suggestion for the open Nebraska job is on point:
Perfect Fit: Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. …Narduzzi has spent 25 years as an assistant, the last 11 of them as Mark Dantonio’s defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Michigan State. But Narduzzi has been up for multiple head-coaching gigs in that span, turning some down while building one of the most reliably suffocating defenses in the nation. Think of him as the upper Midwest’s answer to Charlie Strong, who spent years bouncing around the SEC as an assistant before finally landing his big break at Louisville at age 48, the same age Narduzzi is now. Unlike Louisville, Nebraska isn’t a stepping-stone to a glitzier gig (Texas, in Strong’s case), but neither does it have proven winners leaping to leave their current posts.
Keep the offensive staff, which has created a nouveau-option system that fits Nebraska and its available talent, and you might be in business in Lincoln.
UM. OOOOKAY. BUT NO. If you're wondering why anyone is chattering about New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, he once went to a Michigan basketball game in a Michigan hat and bought a hot dog. Seriously. This makes him more of a possibility to Rivals($) than Dan Mullen, as he's on their hot board and Mullen is not.
Is it because Mullen is supposedly not a good dude? Well, they've got Bret Bielema—who defended a kid who tried to tear Steve Breaston's ACL and was widely regarded as sketchtastic in Madison even when he was the coach—on it, so no. The grayshirt thing is a problem, but we are talking about hiring Jim Harbaugh, who bombed Michigan in a presser. The grayshirt is something you can get over in a way that a flat-out scholarship yank would be tougher to. And Mullen has Midwest roots. To not even consider him would be insane.
Rivals keeps throwing out an Anonymous High Profile College Coach who is interested in the job; if the thing they heard is the thing I heard that would be Bob Stoops. Stoops is also prominently absent from their This Guy or This Guy and What About This Guy paragraphs.
ALSO NO. EDSBS threw out Steve Addazio's name on a whim, because he associates Michigan with boring offenses and bald guys. Our great and good friend Football Scoop chimed in that he was hearing that too, probably for the same reason he was doubling down on Michigan "struggling" after watching Hackett's presser.
Addazio is 55 and has two years at Temple and two seven-win years at BC to his name; tha andt he was a terrible OC at Florida. I mean, here's Athlon making the case:
Addazio wouldn’t be a splashy, name hire like Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles, but he’s a good coach that would win a lot of games at Michigan. In two years at Boston College, Addazio is 14-11 and has recorded a .500 record in conference play in both seasons. Prior to taking over in Chestnut Hill, Addazio spent two years at Temple and went 13-11 during that span.
Sign me up?
Addazio is Brady Hoke's resume without the Michigan connections. I can no longer say never, but that has a 1% chance of happening, if that. Addazio would be tragic Michigan Manball thinking in everything but actual presence in Ann Arbor. He is a low-upside pick in an environment where MSU and OSU are at peaks.
Etc.: Hiring criteria. Not too sure about the "has to be a head coach already" thing when Fisher, Stoops, Mullen, Gundy, Patterson, and even David Shaw are amongst the most successful guys in college football right now.
12/2/2014 – Michigan 68, Syracuse 65 – 6-1
It wasn't quite as audacious. Michigan had actually run some offense and the launching point wasn't halfway between the three point line and half court. But it wasn't uncontested, and neither was it anywhere near the line. Spike Albrecht raised up, and it felt a lot like a game a couple years ago in a much bigger arena.
Spike wasn't even a novelty at that point. A 5'11" freshman averaging eight minutes a game with Brent Petway-level usage, he was a weird spare part people were still ticked at Beilein for snatching away from Appalachian State at the last second. He'd hit some threes; a couple games earlier he'd unleashed a wicked court-length bounce pass to GRIII long after the VCU romp had descended into delightful farce. That was about all anyone knew about him.
So he comes off the bench for a whopping four minutes against the Orange, in the Final Four, and this guy who looks like he's president of the local chapter of the Young Insert Political Party Heres ends up taking a 35-footer. It goes down, because that game featured a ton of tiny guards against the tiny-guard-murdering Syracuse defense and Michigan beat it by shooting from the courtside seats.
A game later Spike was a national fave-rave tweeting at Kate Upton specifically because he was a nobody. In living rooms across the country, Carls cried out to Mabels that the kid from Pleasantville—Tobey something—was winning a national championship. A nation got its cheek-pinching muscles nice and limber.
Yesterday a healthy swathe of Syracuse fandom saw this shot go up and thought not that guy. Anyone but that guy. I project that at least a half-dozen fell to their knees in despair before the shot even went down.
These people were not just thinking about one shot two years ago. They were thinking about the Globetrotters-but-necessary behind the back assist to Ricky Doyle that had Crisler about losing its mind, about Spike defying every piece of conventional wisdom about Syracuse's long-ass 2-3 zone. That conventional wisdom: small guards perish.
As conventional wisdoms go, this is a good one. There is a ton of evidence in favor of this point of view. Trey Burke had three points in that Final Four game. That year's highly-touted one-seed version of Indiana looked hopelessly inept as they went down in a Sweet 16 game. Iowa barely crested 0.9 PPP earlier this year, with PGs Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons putting up 77 and 56 ORTGs in 52 minutes between them. Six-foot guards loathe the appearance of Syracuse on the schedule.
5'11" don't curr though. Michigan's offense functioned best when Albrecht plunged into the middle of these five gentlemen, a gnome amongst the ents, and invariably found the open man. It was stunning as it was happening and the box score is just as jaw-dropping.
Nine assists. Zero turnovers. 11 points on eight shots. Two very sneaky steals. Hell, three rebounds. In a game where scraping over a point per possession was a Christmas miracle, Spike put up an ORTG of 177. 177!
It's not a fluke. When Derrick Walton missed a game against Iowa last year, Spike had seven assists, no turnovers, and four steals in 35 minutes. It was midway through his seventh Big Ten game last year when he coughed up his first TO. His A:TO ratio this year is 34:4. Michigan is increasingly relying on him as a de-facto starter. He had 32 minutes against Detroit, 35 against Oregon, 27 against 'Nova, 27 against 'Cuse.
Those are the numbers. The eye is even more excited. Spike has gone from a guy who can take the pressure off your main ball handler to a guy extremely aware of the gaps his penetration opens up. His previous tendency to dribble the air out of the ball is all but gone, replaced with an incisiveness that, yes, reminds you of That Other White Point Guard.
As Dakich said on the broadcast after Spike's Globetrotter assist: that was not flash. It made the play. I got a bit frustrated at the passivity of the Michigan offense in the first half, and then I got leery when Michigan tried to screen its way to the interior, because doing that against 'Cuse is asking for a long arm to poke the ball away. I got a little despair-y about it. Then Spike started slashing his way in, utterly confident in his handle, using the fact that he's low to the ground as an advantage. By the time he blew the roof off the place he wasn't a bench player with a cute story.
He was a crutch.
Spike has arrived. He still looks like a whippet interning for Senator Gnome Butterpants IV, but if you try to pinch his cheek your hand is going to look like Syracuse's vaunted zone after he plunges into the lane.
[After THE JUMP: some all-time Kenpom territory approaching?]
“Today I informed Brady Hoke that he will not be returning as our football coach next year. I had mentioned to all of you a couple of weeks ago that we would be evaluating his status at the end of the season and that's what today's announcement is about, so my primary intent today is to do this with deep respect for Brady, his family, the coaches, and all of those associated with our football program, and it is because of their contributions to the University of Michigan.
“This was not an easy decision. You see, I believe the longevity of our best football coaches are tied to the intersection of the performance or measure of wins and losses with the test and expression of values that underscore their program and everywhere I go there is zero question about Brady's values, and I mentioned this trait to you two weeks ago. Brady’s peers, both active and retired coaches, really respect him and his players love playing for him. He has done a great job of molding these young men and focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. He's really earned the respect of all as being a value-centered coach. We need more men like him in sport today.
“So, you might ask how do you reconcile the tension between results and values? Well, one could also make the argument that we have a very young team and we’re about to pivot next year into being an extraordinary team. It has to do with making sure then that Brady has received adequate time to exhibit that arc of improvement that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady had enough time to produce results and they're just not there today, therefore I believe it's time to make this transition. I don't plan on sharing more of Brady's performance review or assessment frankly because I believe the dignity of this conversation is for him only. My next focus is to make sure that this exit for Brady is handled in a first-class way with heightened consideration for not only Brady himself but his staff and his family. Brady’s a hero. He's been an employee at our university for over 12 years.
“So what's next? Well, I plan on starting the search for his replacement immediately. We want to build on what's been established by Brady. My message to the student-athletes was that we’ll work to put them in the best position to win and reinforce that their daily effort is contributing toward being champions. The criteria for our future coach is defined in winning with the shared values of the University of Michigan. I ask for your patience with this search process. It's not fair for me to comment on potential candidates today or the institutions or organizations they currently may be employed by. I can't compromise the integrity of our search process by commenting prematurely until we have that new coach ready to go.
“I believe that the head coach of Michigan football is one of the finest jobs in American sports today and we will have great options. The University of Michigan remains one of the top programs in the country. Now, it's true that the pendulum has swung into a negative. However, one truth in physics is that as a pendulum is in the negative state it's always building energy for its eventual move back to the positive arc. My objective is to find the right coach for the University of Michigan; an individual who will recruit the best student-athletes and puts them in a position to win in the classroom, on the field, and in the community. This is what makes Michigan world-class and we're going to support that with great enthusiasm. Now, in the interim I've asked Mike DeBord, who's in the athletic department, to oversee the day-to-day aspects of the football program as a sport administrator until a new head coach is hired. Mike will not be a candidate for that job. So thank you. I'll be happy to take a few questions right now.”
I know that you don't want to divulge specifics of your meeting, but can you at least characterize for us the tenor of the meeting with Brady?
“Yeah, I think that first of all I can’t emphasize [enough] what an authentic and real person, so what you see is what you get so when you have a discussion like this it's a very straightforward and deliberate discussion. We took a lot of time together. I was not going to make this a discussion just about wins and losses, and so I wanted him to understand what I really appreciated about him and where I had said that he mastered certain parts of coaching. He needs to leave understanding that others should learn from him in some areas and of course, then, this is the part I’m not going to get into is what were the areas that we didn’t see the mastery in and I candidly said I wished I’d had more time with him. I would have liked to have had a shot at helping him with that.”
[After THE JUMP: the obliteration of the ‘Michigan Man’ meme]
According to Spike Albrecht, Ricky Doyle doesn't have a nickname yet, though he's "a bit of a wild man."
As for Doyle, when asked what it feels like to be a fan favorite, he said he didn't even hear his name chanted in high school.
One of those has already changed. The other should any moment now.
While Zak Irvin led the team with 18 points, it was Albrecht and Doyle who made the difference in the signature win of Michigan's season thus far. Spike broke the Syracuse defense in the second half time and again, doing what you have to do to beat the 2-3. His three three-pointers, including the go-ahead bucket with under a minute left, hit them over the top; when he weaved his way into the heart of the zone, he dished out nine assists, including a Sportscenter-worthy behind-the-back feed to Doyle for an and-one dunk.
Doyle did what Michigan's other centers could not: finish, with authority at that, while matching up physically with Syracuse star Rakeem Christmas, who feasted in the first half with Doyle in foul trouble and cooled in the second when Doyle played all but four minutes. After the game, Doyle discussed the physical progress that made this night possible; since getting to campus, he's cut his body fat from 18% down to 10%. It's hard to say who played a bigger part in Doyle's performance: Albrecht or Jon Sanderson.
In front of a raucous Crisler Center crowd, it appeared as though the Wolverines would pull away in the second half after a tightly contested opened stanza; with seven minutes to go, back-to-back threes by Albrecht and Irvin put Michigan up ten. Syracuse responded, however, spearheaded by hot outside shooting from Trevor Cooney, who made four second-half threes; Christmas knotted the game at 63 with just under a minute to play.
After Albrecht's three put Michigan ahead, then Syracuse's Michael Gbinije cut that lead to one with an impressive runner off the backboard, what had been a well-played game took a turn for the ridiculous. Derrick Walton missed the front end of a one-and-one, only for Cuse's Chris McCullough to chuck the ensuing outlet pass out of bounds. Caris LeVert had another opportunity to put Michigan up three at the line, only to miss the front end of his potential pair; after Syracuse rushed up the court, Kaleb Joseph lost the handle and had to foul LeVert after a wild scramble.
This time, LeVert calmly knocked down his free throws, and Joseph's desperation attempt to tie fell well off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
As the four factors indicate, Michigan won this game not with their shooting—though that perked up quite a bit after they went 3/17 from beyond the arc in the first half—but by taking care of the ball, something Syracuse, with 19 turnovers, couldn't accomplish. Equally important was Michigan's rebounding; facing a big Syracuse team that crashes the glass with aplomb, the Wolverines essentially matched their rebounding rate.
The effort of freshman Kameron Chatman should also be noted; he hit a few critical jumpers en route to 10 points and did yeoman's work on the boards, finishing with nine rebounds. LeVert struggled with his shot, netting his 12 points on 16 shot equivalents, but he helped keep the offense going with six assists. Irvin's three-point shooting (4/11) proved critical, and his first-half breakaway dunk—which, yes, should've been an and-one after he got undercut—provided an early highlight.
Returning from a toe injury, Walton struggled, going just 1/7 from the field. So did Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt, neither of whom could slow down Christmas. Albrecht and Doyle had them covered, though, and that was enough to take down a very strong opponent.
Now, about that nickname...
Duke brings its collection of highly-touted freshmen to Madison, WI (source)
*I had my wisdom teeth pulled on Friday, so getting this together took longer than expected. Apologies. – Alex
Table of Contents
Major ACC – Big Ten Challenge storylines
Game previews: Tuesday
Game previews: Wednesday
Nebraska and Rutgers bring home wins
Tom Crean’s seat might be getting warmer
Holiday hoops recap – Part I
Holiday hoops recap – Part II
Holiday hoops recap – Part III
1. Major ACC – Big Ten Challenge storylines
As usual, the annual competition between the Big Ten and the ACC brings some of the most intriguing non-conference fixtures on the college basketball schedule. Unlike early-season tournaments or games at one-off neutral site venues, these will be played on campus – intersectional matchups between some of the most talented and prestigious teams in all of college hoops. As an added bonus, it provides 14 more data-points in the comparative analysis of conference strength.
The headliner of this slate of games is one of the best college basketball games of the year, on paper: two top five teams—Duke, led by possibly the best pro prospect in the country (Jahlil Okafor) travels to face Wisconsin, a veteran team coming off of a Final Four bid. Okafor, a mammoth center with precocious skill and coordination, matches up against Preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, a versatile inside-out scoring five. Duke’s Justice Winslow meets Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker – both will likely be future NBA players, both are athletic, long wings who can score, defend, and rebound. Senior point guards Quinn Cook and Traevon Jackson form an intriguing matchup. This game – televised Wednesday at 9:30 E.T. on ESPN – is simply a must-watch.
With 14 games total, there are plenty more compelling matchups: Ohio State’s young squad faces its first real trip with a trip just south to face a vaunted Louisville team; Michigan welcomes an unusually inexperienced Syracuse team to Ann Arbor and will look to crack its characteristic 2-3 zone; Illinois and Miami – both undefeated – have a chance to enhance their upstart status; in a matchup of former conference foes, Virginia – and their unaesthetic brand of basketball – heads to Maryland (who will unfortunately be without the injured Dez Wells); Iowa has an opportunity to steal an upset at North Carolina; and Michigan State rekindles a football rivalry with Notre Dame – now a basketball member in the ACC.
This is one of the best short stretches of college basketball in terms of unique, high-level matchups, with the added element of conference camaraderie thrown in. Other leagues have since replicated the ACC – Big Ten Challenge, but this is still one of college basketball’s marquee events.
[AFTER THE JUMP: ACC—B1G analysis, recapping holiday tournaments]
Michigan (5-1) vs.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||7:30 pm Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -3 (KenPom)|
PBP: Mike Tirico
Analyst: Dan Dakich
It's B1G/ACC Challenge season, and the good guys have jumped out to a surprising 2-0 lead after two road victories last night: Nebraska over Florida State in what was expected to be a toss-us and Rutgers over Clemson in LOLOLOLOL (seriously, RU had a 19% chance at winning, according to KenPom). Before last night's hilarity, the ACC was a slight favorite to win the challenge; that is no longer the case.
Also, it'd be quite nice for Michigan to tally one of those signature non-conference wins that always helps with eventual NCAA seeding. This is their best shot, as the road trip to Arizona in a couple weeks looks much less winnable.
Derrick Walton will be a game-time decision after missing the Nicholls State contest with what is either a sprain or turf toe. DJ Wilson is out for 3-4 weeks with a sprained knee; Michigan is exploring the possibility of a redshirt, which would probably be best for all involved given how unready he's looked in limited minutes so far—a hypothetical fifth year for Wilson would serve this program much better than what he's likely to provide this season.
Syracuse isn't injury-free, either. Starting three Tyler Roberson's status is up in the air due to a "strained muscle" that's kept him out of the last two games. I'm including him in the lineup card in case he can go but Jim Boeheim has "no idea" if he'll play tonight.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. %Min and %Poss figure are from this season now—yes, there will be a fair amount of noise in these numbers for a while. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open.
|G||14||Kaleb Joseph||Fr.||6'3, 165||82||20||Yes|
|Top-50 recruit off to rocky start; high assist rate but huge turnover rate.|
|G||10||Trevor Cooney*||Jr.||6'4, 195||83||15||Kinda|
|Mostly a 3-pt shooter, but iffy one; has been getting to rim and converting well.|
|F||21||Tyler Roberson||So.||6'8, 212||35||20||Very|
|Rebounds well; otherwise struggled before injury. Bit player as freshman.|
|F||5||Chris McCullough||Fr.||6'10, 212||82||23||Yes|
|5-star, great shot-blocker, nice steal rate, good rebounder, finisher with a midrange game.|
|C||25||Rakeem Christmas*||Sr.||6'9, 250||71||27||Very|
|Beast. Huge rebound #s, top-50 block rate, shooting 57% with a high FT rate.|
|F||0||Michael Gbinije||Jr.||6'7, 200||53||17||Yes|
|Will start if Roberson can't; struggling with offense (esp. 3-pt shooting) but good on D.|
|F||2||BJ Johnson||So.||6'7, 185||53||19||Yes|
|Good rebounder, can block shots, also really struggling to put the ball thru the hoop.|
|G||4||Ron Patterson||So.||6'2, 200||25||16||Yes|
|Playing limited minutes as backup PG; okay AST/TO, woeful shooting (3/17 FG).|
Syracuse is currently a team that does a couple things quite well while otherwise struggling, although one of those things they do quite well is "defense," which is rather important; the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone is still vaunted indeed. They're #5 in defensive efficiency on KenPom with top-50 marks in all of the defensive four factors. They're not nearly so good on offense, as the lineup card might've led you to believe, but they've managed to avoid turnovers and crash the glass with aplomb, so despite horrendous outside shooting they're the #86 offense nationally at the moment—not great, but certainly good enough with that defense.
The dangerman is undoubtedly Rakeem Christmas, last year's starting center who's slid down to the four, taken on a larger role, and thrived. Offensively he does almost all of his damage at the basket, either by bulling his way to the hoop or putting back one of his many offensive rebounds; as you'd expect from a burly rim-crasher, he also draws quite a few fouls, and he shoots a respectable 70% at the line. On defense, he's also very good on the boards, and he's recorded 15 blocks through six games (though six of those came agaisnt lowly Loyola). One potential area to exploit: Chrismas has committed four or more fouls in all but one game this season, when he had... three. Getting him off the floor would be huge, obviously.
Unfortunately, Syracuse has a five-star freshman standing at 6'10" to help Christmas off the wing or slide into the middle as need be. Chris McCullough also has 15 blocks on the year with impressive rebounding rates (especially on offense). He's hitting 58% of his shots, and unlike Christmas his range extends beyond the paint; he's even hit his lone three-point attempt this year, though most of his shots come at the basket. He's drawing fouls at nearly the same rate as Christmas, but he's hitting only 62% of his free throws and he's also more turnover-prone.
The team's third player designated as a significant offensive contributor is top-50 freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph, who's had a somewhat rough adjustment to the college game. While he's hitting half his shots (almost exclusively twos) and dishing out nearly six assists per game, he's also turning the ball over at a very high rate—his only games with fewer than four turnovers have come against Hampton and Loyola.
Shooting guard Trevor Cooney is a player you may remember from Michigan's Final Four victory over the Orange in 2013; a high-volume, low-efficiency outside shooter off the bench then, he's now starting, and while he's diversified his game a bit—he's getting to the rim more than he used to—his shot is still quite iffy; including his 9/33 mark this year, he's a career 34% three-point shooter.
There's the aforementioned uncertainty at the three. Starter Tyler Roberson may or may not be able to go with an abdominal strain; in very limited action over the last two years, he's been a good rebounder and a very inefficient scorer. If Roberson can't play, Michael Gbinije should start; he's not remotely on Roberson's level as a rebounder, and while he's hit 10/19 twos this year, he's off to a very rough 2/16 start from beyond the arc.
The Syracuse bench doesn't factor in much at all; despite Roberson's starting-when-he's-healthy minutes getting counted as bench minutes on KemPom, the Orange still rank 304th in bench minutes. BJ Johnson is another lanky wing who's struggling offensively. Ron Patterson will briefly spell Joseph at the point; he's been a little more responsible with the ball but can hardly hit a shot to save his life this season (3/17 FG). That's as deep as Jim Boeheim has reached into his bench against the two major-conference foes they've faced this season.
Sample size caveat still applies.
So, yeah, that 2-3 is liable to tear your face off. Opponents are hitting just 38.5% of their two-pointers against Syracuse (19%[!!!] of shots inside the arc are blocked by the Orange), second-chance oppotunities are scarce, and turnovers are abundant. Michigan has the two keys to beating that zone, however: excellent outside shooting and an aversion to turnovers. The Orange have allowed a very high number of three-point attempts, and while opponents are hitting just 26.6% of them, that number's not going to hold even if Cuse is guarding the perimeter well.
The Syracuse offense, at this point, is predicated on second chances; that eFG% is ugly, but the rebounding rate should be a concern, especially since M struggled mightily to keep the other excellent offensive rebounding team they've faced (Oregon) from getting putback opportunities. Cuse is actually shooting the ball pretty well inside the arc (52.4%), but have been beyond bad from outside of it (19.8%); that latter figure should rise even though Syracuse doesn't boast much at all in the way of shooters.
Work from the middle. As we learned when Mitch McGary played like Magic Johnson in Michigan's Final Four triumph, the best way to break down the 2-3 zone is to get the ball into the middle, cause the defense to collapse, and find open shooters. The big issue for Michigan is how they'll accomplish this; Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle aren't ready to fill that McGary role, so they'll have to get creative, most likely by having their wings—especially Caris LeVert—cut to the middle and distribute from there.
Collapse inside. Syracuse is going to have to prove they can hit an outside shot. Michigan is probably going to need to give defensive help on Christmas and McCullough, not to mention throw everything they have at the boards to make sure those guys don't get second chances. Against this team, giving up open looks from the outside isn't the worst thing in the world; more important is making sure they go one-and-out on as many possessions as possible.
Pressure Joseph. Syracuse doesn't turn the ball over much with the notable exception of their freshman point guard, who's doing so quite a bit. Whether or not Walton is available, M should be able to turn up the heat on Joseph—or unleash Spike Albrecht on the passing lanes, as he does—and getting some easy transition points would be huge against a team that doesn't give much up in the halfcourt.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 3.
If Walton can't play, that obviously changes things, but Michigan's decided edge in shooting ability could make the difference either way.