well that's just, like, your opinion, man
Earlier in the year I took a cue from Michigan's odd announcement of Adam Braithwaite as an OLB/safeties coach to theorize that Michigan was adopting something half 3-3-5 stack, half 4-3. You can put whatever label you want on it, but it's apparently similar to what Virginia Tech runs. After yesterday's press conference, though, the prevailing opinion is that Michigan's defense is going to be half 3-3-5, half 3-3-5. This, for the Ohio State fans stopping by, is 100% 3-3-5.
Wha? Aigh! Justin Siller! No—
Evidence for the switch is plentiful. In this episode of "Inside Michigan Football," Troy Woolfolk talks about "the new defense":
In yesterday's press conference the players all made references to the 3-3-5. The usual array of practice reports coming from shadowy trenchcoated internet folk all say that not only is Michigan running the 3-3-5 in practice, that's all they're running. This is no longer in the realm of rumor.
Is it in the realm of sense? I don't know. The major reasons I and other tea leaf readers were banking on an aggressive 4-2-5 were threefold: it's basically what Michigan was trying to run most of last year, available bodies on the defensive line point towards an undershifted four-man front, and Michigan's latest recruiting class features a zillion guys who were told they would be "quick" ends a la Roh.
The 3-3-5 as a base set obliterates the quick. Michigan cobbles theirs together by dropping Roh back to one of the outside linebacker spots. The defensive end spot not occupied by Ryan Van Bergen is now going to be a Banks/Patterson platoon or a 294-pound Mike Martin. Since 3-3-5 defensive ends are not lumbering quasi-DTs like 3-4 defensive ends (more about this later), Martin seems like a questionable fit at end; the alternative is platooning Martin and Campbell, two of the most physically dominant players on the team.
The Unresolved Questions
Is this an alternate look or a base set? If it's a base set, how often will they deploy a four-man front?
Early indications are that Michigan will use it as a base set. One theory out there is that Michigan is running the 3-3-5 to the exclusion of other defenses because Mike Martin is out for spring. I don't think that makes sense. A team that spends all its time learning one set of responsibilities because one player is out for spring practice only to switch to a considerably different set in fall is a team that is going to get its coach fired at the end of the year. Teams don't devote the entirety of spring practice to a "new defense" that is then a changeup when the season comes.
Michigan used the 3-3-5 from time to time last year, most prominently in the Ohio State game when it was an effective base set that shut down Ohio State's I-formation running:
This is actually more of a 5-3 since the DEs are lined up over the guards and the box safeties are rolled up tight to the line of scrimmage, FWIW, but that's a matter of alignment against a run-heavy team. Note that Roh is an outside linebacker here.
This forced OSU into some bunch formations that forced Michigan out of the stack; OSU also attacked it by running single-back formations that are inherently strong against single deep safety defenses because of old-timey football wonk stuff. Buckeye Football Analysis has a deeper analysis if you're in the mood.
When OSU went unbalanced, Michigan responded by putting Roh's hand down and going back to their usual undershifted four-man line. For Michigan the personnel will be exactly the same, allowing them to shift between fronts at will. So if the 3-3-5 isn't working in a particular game or just turns out to be a bad idea, they aren't totally screwed.
They would be at least partially screwed, however, since they're piling more and more on the plates of linebackers who spent a lot of time last year wondering what to do (or decisively doing the wrong thing). The way West Virginia ran a 3-3-5 allows linebackers to be blitzing players who have to do a minimal amount of reading, but if it doesn't work then all that time will be time that could have spent fixing what ails Ezeh and Mouton in a 4-2-5.
I'm not thrilled that Michigan seems to be changing its defense again, especially since I've been pitching defensive coordinator continuity as a major reason Michigan's defense will improve in 2010, but given what they ran most of last year the only players who will be making major changes are the linebackers. In the West Virginia version of the 3-3-5, defensive ends are basically the same as they are in a 4-3. The nose tackle is more of a two-gap player if you can make him one, but that's not something that requires a lot of reading. So… yeah. Maybe it will work.
First things first, the Michigan Spring Game will now serve as a fundraiser for Mott Children's Hospital. Though the event will still be free to the public, they will have the opportunity to donate money to Mott as they enter - with incentives!
- $5 Donation - "All in for Michigan Towel"
- $20 Donation - "All in for Michigan, All in for Mott" T-Shirt
- $250 Donation - 4 Passes to a pre-season scrimmage(!)
- $500 Donation - 2 pre-game sideline passes to a 2010 football game (BGSU, UMass, Iowa, or Illinois).
The Beam Family of Brighton, MI will also match every donation that is made during the Spring Game. This fundraiser continues Michigan football's long-standing relationship with Mott.
The Spring Game festivities kick off an April 17th at 11AM, with the Alumni Flag Football Game (gates open at 10AM). The team takes the field for warmups around noon, and the game itself starts at 1. Unfortunately, the team doesn't have enough healthy players to be able to do a full scrimmage with teams divided up, but they'll do more offense v. defense things. In future years, a game-like scrimmage will be possible.
- Injuries: Vladimir Emilien and Jared Van Slyke both sprained knees, and are out a few weeks. They're hopeful that Emilien will be back for the final week of spring practice. Je'Ron Stokes sprained his ankle and Anthony LaLota injured his elbow, both should be out about a week. David Molk is able to run a bit and snap the ball, but he won't participate in any contact this spring. Everyone who had surgery in the off-season is progressing on schedule or even faster.
- The team will have three scrimmages this spring. This upcoming Saturday will be the first one. There will also be one the week before the spring game, and the Spring Game itself.
- Offense: Last year's offense was decent, but there were times (especially with turnovers) that they missed opportunities due to poor execution. This spring, they're focusing on improving that, as well as becoming more physical.
- Quarterbacks: Denard Robinson hasn't played anything other than QB so far this spring, but if it becomes clear he's not going to get tons of snaps there, he'll play other positions in addition. Devin Gardner is behind the other two QBs, as he still needs to learn the offense. His throwing mechanics are looking good though.
- Running Backs: Even the guys who have some experience are pretty young. Mike Cox has a very good opportunity this spring, and he should contribute this fall.
- Offensive Line: Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge are the veterans at the tackle positions. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will push them. The freshmen have gotten bigger, and will try to prove themselves this spring. If multiple guys at a position are able to help the team win, they'll play at tackle.
- Defense: They'll tweak defensive packages for the various offensive schemes they'll see this fall. The challenge is to have a wide enough variety of packages to be able to play every offense, while keeping the overall defense simple enough for the players to be able to learn it well.
- Defensive line: There isn't a lot of experienced depth on the offensive line, but that just means guys who need lots of reps this spring will be able to get them. Will Campbell is improving, he added a lot of strength to go with his weight this offseason. The coaches are excited to see what Anthony LaLota can do when he returns from injury, as he had a good offseason as well.
- Linebackers - Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh have impressed this spring, as has Mark Moundros, who is moonlighting at linebacker since the fullback doesn't play that many downs in this offense. Rodriguez thinks Mouton played well last year, but Obi seemed to falter down the stretch. One of the big factors in lackluster LB play last year was a lack of depth - the D would play well for a couple downs or even a few drives, then opposing offenses would have their way with them.
- Safeties - With Emilien and Van Slyke out, a number of younger guys are getting a chance to play this spring. Cameron Gordon is playing well at safety. Brandin Hawthorne will play both safety and hybrid.
- Corners: JT Floyd has been playing well this spring. The coaches are putting some real pressure on him, and he's responding well. Justin Turner is also getting a lot of reps.
- The offensive line intensity has been good in the first few days. There is a lot of depth, and the young guys are ready to prove themselves. The guys are ready to hit.
- Schilling is excited to be a leader on the offensive line. He has lots of experience, and the rest of the guys who have been around a while are helping the young offensive linemen come along for the future. Stephen is up to about 305 pounds, after playing last year around the 295 range.
- Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington, and Michael Schofield are three of the hardest workers on the offensive line. Lewan and Washington in particular seem ready to prove they can contribute on the field. They're hoping to push for some playing time. Lewan has a nasty streak in the way he plays.
- The defense has been playing primarily a 3-3-5 this spring. Typically, Michigan's offensive front only sees odd front in passing situations, but Schilling thinks they'll be able to do a lot of good things out of this formation.
- Patrick Omameh is very comfortable at guard (from the way Schilling was talking, it sounds like this move is probably permanent). When Molk comes back from his injury, the interior of the offensive line will be very good. Molk played very well before getting injured, and Patrick finished the year very strong.
- The running backs got some reps last year, but Schilling is excited to see what they can do, especially with all the depth in the backfield. Michael Shaw is a good speed back, Cox and Toussaint can pound the ball well, and when he comes back, Vincent Smith can do it all - including catch out of the backfield.
- Schilling is bummed he won't be around for the first night game in Michigan Stadium. It's especially exciting for a game against a rival like Notre Dame. He'll try to make it back for the game if he can.
- This is Troy's first time in a 3-3-5 type of defense. It's the best formation for the personnel that this team has right now. Troy has built up a comfort level with Greg Robinson's coaching after being a bit skeptical at first last year. He likes the way GERG coaches, and believes in what he says. The coaches are working to make sure the players - especially the younger ones - are learning well.
- Switching positions all the time last year hurt him a bit, but for the long-term, it's actually been a help. At corner, he now understands what the safeties will be doing, and can trust in the scheme a bit more. He still has to work on his technique at corner a bit.
- Cameron Gordon has lots of natural ability, and is very good at reading his keys. JT Floyd has been looking really good lately, and understands the game a bit better. He had a nice interception the other day. Justin Turner is still young, but is coming along well. Mike Williams and Jordan Kovacs both like the positions they've moved to. For both of them, there's an emphasis at the new positions on coming up and making tackles, rather than playing in deep coverage. That plays to both of their strengths.
- With all the 3-3-5 talk, I've been assuming Craig Roh would mostly play with his hand down for more of a 4-2-5 look, but that wasn't the case. He was practicing with the other LBs, on the first unit with Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton.
- Tate Forcier is still clearly the best passer of the QBs. Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson were about even, with Devin maybe a liiitle more accurate (except on the longball, which he overthrew quite a bit). Denard probably has a much deeper understanding of the passing game, and would be more able to contribute.
- Looked like they might be preparing the throw it to the RBs a bit more this season. They went away from it a bit when Carlos Brown went out, but Vincent Smith did have a few catches last season.
- Mike Martin isn't practicing in the spring (shoulder surgery), but he was running laps around the indoor field. I guarantee you he's faster than me, despite being 300ish pounds and looking like the Hulk.
- MI DE Brennen Beyer was visiting practice today.
Insanely too long, but I fell down the rabbit hole on this one.
There is an annual complaint against the Pairwise when Team X is passed over in favor of considerably less deserving team Y. This is an exercise in pointlessness, but I was curious as to what a tournament that's selected by eyeballing it would look like. Let's pretend I'm the committee and put 16 teams together.
Boston College, North Dakota, Cornell, Michigan, Alabama-Huntsville, and RIT.
Denver and Miami have the top two records in the country against the #8 and #14 schedules. Wisconsin and St. Cloud are 3 and 6 in RPI and have top ten records against top ten schedules.
THE EXCESSIVELY LARGE BUBBLE
|TEAM||Record||RPI||TUC||Record Rank||SOS||Conference finish||Conference tourney|
|Bemidji State||23-9-4||0.543||6-2-1||6||34||1st CHA||Third place tie|
|Yale||20-9-3||0.537||4-1-2||8||40||1st ECAC||First round|
|Ferris State||21-13-8||0.533||6-10-3||13T||30||3rd CCHA||Fourth place|
|Minnesota-Duluth||22-17-1||0.533||11-14-5||18||9||4th WCHA||Fifth place|
|UNH||17-13-7||0.533||7-10-6||19||12||1st HE||First round|
|Alaska||18-11-9||0.530||6-7-6||16||26||5th CCHA||Round of eight|
|Michigan State||19-13-6||0.525||8-10-2||17||27||2nd CCHA||Round of eight|
|Colorado College||19-17-3||0.524||8-14-3||25T||7||6th WCHA||First round|
|Union||21-12-6||0.523||2-4-3||11||39||3rd ECAC||Second place|
|Minnesota||18-19-2||0.519||9-17-2||34||2||7th WCHA||First round|
Those are the next ten teams in the RPI, the shiniest record remaining after that, and the team KRACH says should be in the tourney that isn't anywhere near these teams in RPI.
Of the above teams the first one off the board is Northern Michigan. The Wildcats have the best TUC record by far of any team with a significant number of games played, a strong RPI, and the best combination of record and schedule strength. NMU is 7-2-5 against this cohort.
Bemidji State is next with their excellent RPI and 7-5-2 record against a 14-game slate of WCHA and CCHA opponents that included a three-point weekend against Northern, a sweep of UMD, and a win over Miami.
And we will take Yale as a 20-9-3 ECAC champ even if KRACH thinks they are worse than eight WCHA teams.
Now we get down to the tough decisions. Three spots left for eight teams. They come in three sets:
- High RPI: Ferris State, UMD, UNH.
- Low RPI: Vermont, Michigan State, CC, Union, Minnesota
- Straddling: Alaska
Minnesota is mostly included to show how broken KRACH is as a real world selection device. In its world, an under .500 WCHA team that finished seventh in its conference, went 5-3 OOC and has a horrible TUC record would be a three seed. There is an NCAA rule prohibiting teams under .500 from getting at-large bids after Wisconsin pulled that trick off a couple years ago. They're dropped.
Next, we shoot down Michigan State. There are two CCHA teams with big RPI advantages on them. Both have better records against basically equivalent schedules. Taking them would mean taking the other two CCHA teams and having six in the tourney, something that can't be justified given the relative nonconference results.
We also shoot down CC, which didn't do anything in the nonconference or playoffs to disprove the idea it's a below average WCHA team. CC's nonconference consisted of a split against Northeastern, the ninth place team in HE, a win against Cornell, a loss against Maine, and four games against an assortment of AH and CHA teams. KRACH, of course, has them ninth nationally because they're almost .500 in the WCHA.
Union is the next to die with their ugly SOS and nonexistent TUC categories. That's something that can be overlooked when you have a nice RPI, but there's no reason to look at Union's schedule and think they're somehow underrated.
The Real Bubble
|TEAM||Record||RPI||TUC||Record Rank||SOS||Conference finish||Conference tourney|
|Ferris State||21-13-8||0.533||6-10-3||13T||30||3rd CCHA||Fourth place|
|Minnesota-Duluth||22-17-1||0.533||11-14-5||18||9||4th WCHA||Fifth place|
|UNH||17-13-7||0.533||7-10-6||19||12||1st HE||First round|
|Alaska||18-11-9||0.530||6-7-6||16||26||5th CCHA||Round of eight|
The only low RPI team we can't dismiss is Vermont, which went 3-3 in six games against RPI #2 Denver and #4 Boston College. They also beat Yale and UMD in single games and went 2-3-1 against UNH. Their TUC record is the most impressive of any team not already selected. They finished eighth(!) in Hockey East, yes, but they were three points from third. Going 6-1 in the nonconference and beating league champ UNH in the first round of the playoffs means they're worth a look.
Ferris has the best record of any remaining team other than ECAC foe Union but they have an ugly TUC record that's made uglier by the details: four of Ferris's six wins are against UNO, the #21 team according to RPI. The others are wins against Michigan and Michigan State.
New Hampshire… same boat, but they are 3-2-1 against Vermont for whatever that's worth.
Alaska swept Ferris, split a trio with Michigan, and tied three of six against Northern.
UMD is in a similar boat: eight of their eleven TUC wins are against #18 CC (who they played an improbable seven times) and #22 Minnesota. However, Duluth has a better record, RPI, and SOS than UNH and Vermont. They have slightly worse records by a much higher SOS than either of the CCHA teams. Minnesota-Duluth is in.
We have to kill two of these teams. I don't know. Maybe goal differential?
- Ferris State: +0.65
- Alaska: +0.45
- New Hampshire: +0.21
- Vermont: +0.05
That does not help at all. This is why they went with the Pairwise. Okay. You cannot possibly put Vermont in the tournament over UNH when UNH has a better record, RPI, SOS, conference finish, and beat Vermont head to head. And I don't think you can leave out UNH without a good reason when they proved themselves vastly superior to all HE teams not named Boston College. So New Hampshire's in. Then you have three teams.
TEAM A has the best record and RPI but weakest schedule.
TEAM B swept team A but has a meaningfully worse record and a worse league and conference finish.
TEAM C beat more really good teams than the other two but lost to more bad teams and finished in eighth place in its conference.
I… I guess I'm going with Ferris State and validating all the complaints. But it's not like this is obvious.
Working backwards since those should be the easiest:
Small conference autobids for teams with bad metrics.
14. Ferris State
13. New Hampshire
Last three in.
Michigan gets ahead of UMD and Ferris by virtue of common opponents. The other metrics are so close as to be nearly indistinguishable, but Michigan has a major edge in COP against a conference opponent in Ferris and a 10-2 to 8-6 advantage against UMD. The comparison with UNH is basically a push in all categories, so Michigan gets the edge for the strong late-season run.
9. Bemidji State
I guess this is where strong records against weak competition go.
8. Northern Michigan
Clearly the best of the bubble-ish teams.
6. St. Cloud State
They've separated themselves from the below; it's a coinflip as to which is 6 and which is 7.
5. Boston College
4. North Dakota
Three teams for two one-seeds. Wisconsin has a major edge in comparisons against BC; North Dakota narrowly loses TUC but actually has a much more impressive record since they played 15 games against RPI top ten opponents (and another five against #12) to BC's one. The COP category is BC's mostly because North Dakota went 1-4 against Denver. Since RPI is basically equivalent, I give the nod to North Dakota's SOS.
These are the obvious top two teams in the tournament. Picking between them is not a big deal since the last two teams are by far the least impressive and both should go meekly. Miami does have all three points in the PWR comparison so we'll go with them.
That sets us up with one intra-conference matchup in the first round: Cornell versus Yale. We'll swap Yale and BSU.
1. Miami vs 16. UAH
8. Northern Michigan vs 9. Yale
2. Denver vs. 15. RIT
7. Cornell vs. 10. Bemidji State
3. Wisconsin vs. 14 Ferris State
6. St. Cloud State vs. 11. Michigan
4. North Dakota vs 13. UNH
5. Boston College vs. 12. Minnesota-Duluth
Attendance will be shaky in Fort Wayne, but there's no way to swap Michigan in since Northern is holding down the 8 seed unless you want to swap the entire matchup. If Northern and St. Cloud had comparable metrics, I'd do it but there's a big enough gap that the bracket integrity is more important.
Minnesota-Duluth probably should have been in easily, but was left out in favor of Vermont. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say Ferris is more deserving than Alaska. Apparently, in my Northern is slightly underseeded; other than that it's not much different, at least not this year.
If I was the king of college hockey I'd have the committee hand select the last couple at large bids but then use the Pairwise for seeding.
"A fertile ground for dangerous upstarts lately." That's the accurate, expected, still painful knife Doctor Saturday gently slips between Michigan's ribs in his latest premature assessment, this of the UConn team that will inaugurate Michigan's luxury boxes and possibly clock year three of the Rodriguez era on the head before it can even kick over some MAC team's sand castle.
The assessment doesn't exactly live up the DocSat's foreboding tweet, which said he would be the first person to jump on the bandwagon of a "serious contender in the Big East." That sounds bad. It's not quite that bad in the final analysis, though:
The Huskies are a couple playmakers away from standing out as a conference favorite, and one of those guys may emerge on one side or the other. Unless they come up with more firepower on both sides, though, the existing talent level makes it hard to forecast anything better than 8-4. That's not a breakthrough, exactly, but it is a more generous guess than they've ever gotten before at this time of year.
UConn suffered through a series of painfully close losses before a breakthrough-ish game against Notre Dame launched them on a four game win streak. Syracuse, USF, and South Carolina were the other victims. In any case, UConn returns a crap-ton of starters from an 8-5 team that saw the breaks go against it last year. I don't think they'll end the year #2, but the specter of that Utah game has been duly raised.
Hypothesis damage. It's not like losing Manny Harris is going to help the team, especially if it continues to shoot zero point two percent, but I can't be the only person who has glanced at Harris's relatively meh efficiency numbers (47.7 eFG, basically equivalent to Novak) and thought that replacing him might not be the mountain it appears to be.
Here is a chart that slaps that idea in the face and tells it to sit in the corner. Presenting the top ten Big Ten players in John Hollinger's comprehensive PER stat:
|1||Evan Turner, OSU||28||35.4||22||15.5||26.8||6.6||24.8||15.7||31.3|
|2||Robbie Hummel, PUR||27||30.3||12.9||6.5||19.6||6.5||21||13.7||28.31|
|3||Draymond Green, MSU||32||25.4||22.6||12.8||18.1||10||22.1||16.1||25.85|
|4||Damian Johnson, MINN||34||25.5||18.6||10.7||16.6||6.8||12.5||9.6||25.36|
|5||DeShawn Sims, MICH||32||32.1||5.2||8.4||23||12.7||18.6||15.6||25.2|
|6||Manny Harris, MICH||31||36.1||17.3||12.1||24.4||6.8||15.4||11.1||24.76|
|7||JaJuan Johnson, PUR||32||31.1||4.6||11.4||19.7||9.3||18.1||13.7||24.66|
|8||John Shurna, NW||33||36.3||12.7||9.9||21.8||6||16.1||11.1||23.68|
|9||Zack Gibson, MICH||32||10||6.8||13.5||15.1||12.1||16.2||14.1||23.66|
|10||Trevon Hughes, WIS||31||32.5||14.2||10.4||23.5||4.6||13||8.8||23.3|
One-grunt observations on the three bolded folk: obvs, guh, wha?
Okay. I think that Michigan playing super small at all times skews this towards the players on the team who actually haul in rebounds. Still, this is one statistical measure that passes the sniff test—check out the top of the national leaderboard for Enter Samhan, Some UNI Guy, and Argh Running 40-Footer—that disagrees with the various Kenpom measures that declare Manny Harris a prolific but inefficient scorer.
Also… holy jeez maybe we could have figured out a way to put Gibson on the floor a bit more.
(HT: Inside The Hall.)
Money money money. Bleed Scarlet shouldn't feel too bad about missing USA Today's most recent FOIA rampage, a January database of revenue and expenses at public division I schools. It seems like the entire blogosphere whiffed on. I certainly hadn't seen it.
Anyway, this perked my ears up:
The vast majority of sports programs — even those that purport to support themselves — receive significant financial backing from their institutions to operate. Of the 99 institutions in the table below, all but four — Louisiana State, Ohio State, and Purdue Universities, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln — reported receiving at least some revenues in the 2007-8 fiscal year from one of four categories of “allocated” revenues: student fees, direct state or government support, direct institutional support (general fund money), or indirect institutional support (facilities, energy costs, etc.).
Eh? Really? No Michigan? A quick zip over to the database provides an answer. It is not earth-shaking:
As of 2008, six hundredths of a percentage point of Michigan's athletic department funding comes from the university. This is not a one-time fluke, as direct support went from zero in 2005 to about 30k the next year and 50k the year after before landing at its current totally insignificant amount. What is it? I asked SID Bruce Madej:
This is how we are required to report when we receive funds to pay for work study students who assist us during the year.
That mystery solved.
Now let us ask the eternal question: why does Eastern Michigan have a football program? 86% of athletic department "revenue" comes as a subsidy.
Etc.: Hidden in the night game announcement is a two-year break in the M-ND series in 2018 and 2019, which an mgoblog user picked out and MVictors confirmed was a new development. DocSat on the "cult of the bracket."
Your humble author at around 8PM on Wednesday
So, right. I didn't want to harsh the hockey buzz earlier and mention it then, but I will mention it now: Spirit Airlines sucks. I waited long enough that I am no longer a spittle-flecked FFFFFFUUUUUU-bot about the whole thing and can now relate to you my story without having it devolve into fantasies where I chop off their heads. Instead I will rationally explain to you why Spirit Air is an exceptionally bad choice for anyone looking to use a plane to change their location.
Event #1: I am flying to New York for Blogs With Balls 1.0, the first ever sportsblogger convention-type substance. Due to crazy weather things, the flight is cancelled. Okay, fine, out of their control. I am then told that I can get on the next available flight. The flight is on Sunday. It is Thursday. BWB is on Saturday. I am attempting to get to New York City, which is a large and notable place with no fewer than three major airports if you count Newark.
It turns out I cannot explode the heads of people who are talking to me on the phone. I cancel. I do manage to Priceline a flight for less than one zillion dollars, but I have to get up at 4 AM to catch it. That day is fun.
Event #2: I purchase tickets to head out to Las Vegas for the NCAA tournament's opening weekend in order to see my friend who moved to Nowhere, Arizona, and spends the first weekend of the NCAA tournament running around like one of those little dogs whose blood is 90% cocaine. Because MGoSignificantOther has to TA classes, we have a tight window. It only makes sense to fly out Wednesday night and come back Sunday and unfortunately in that window Spirit is about 300 bucks cheaper than the alternatives. I grit my teeth and buy.
When we arrive at the airport more than an hour before the flight, our boarding passes have no seats. I know this is very bad. It turns out they have oversold the flight by a whopping six people and we are all totally screwed. We are given the option to fly out later… 24 hours later. This totally destroys the sense in going. We cancel. Spirit offers us exactly nothing in compensation.
I FFFFFFUUUUUUU my way out of the airport and fall into a funk that only magically delicious Shawn Hunwick can cure.
A Totally Non Spittle-Flecked Reason You Should Avoid Spirit
I have been caught in the throes of airline fiascoes a few times before, and have been pissed off. But in those instances the delays have been on the order of hours because other airlines have reciprocal agreements where they will reduce FFFUUUU as much as possible by letting you on their flights.
Spirit does not have these agreements—my Priceline flight is proof of that—and if anything goes wrong with your flight, or you are one of the unfortunate folk who Spirit says "psyche!" to when you say "you sold me a ticket", you will be waiting at least a full day and possibly up to, like, forever, before you can actually get on a plane. If getting somewhere at a particular time is important, avoid Spirit Air at all costs. If you have a wedding or a holiday or a space ninja convention or have made any plans whatsoever, Spirit Air is a terrible choice.
I understand that sometimes the flight is going to be ridiculously cheaper and you'll want to roll the dice, but trust me: if it's anywhere under a couple hundred bucks—which most of them are—they'll extract most of that from you in hidden fees for booking a seat or checking luggage or breathing funny and you'll be exposing yourself to greatly increased risk that your plans will just evaporate.
Also, when you try to email them you will have to jump through sixteen hoops to do so and then you will be all FFFFUUUU again when you send them a link to your post.
A Side Note
Is there any other industry that will promise you something, take hundreds or thousands of dollars from you, and then say "sorry, we were just kidding?" I can hardly believe this "oversold" bullcrap is legal. Two would be one thing, but six? Seriously?
Obligatory Planes, Trains, And Automobiles Embed
The most NSFW 53 seconds that does not involve nudity can be:
For the record, I did not do this. For the first time in my life I did pull the "DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO?!?" card, though. They did not.
3/19/2010 – Michigan 5, Miami 2 – 24-17-1
3/20/2010 – Michigan 2, Northern Michigan 1 – 25-17-1, CCHA
One. When I was in high school my AP English research paper was a no doubt ham-fisted comparison between Winesburg, Ohio and Bridge of San Luis Rey. I don't remember the former whatsoever, but the latter is a novel by Thornton Wilder in which a selection of lovelorn 18th century Peruvians pitch headlong to their deaths when the rope bridge they are crossing gives way.
This event fascinates a local monk who sees the tragedy happen. He tracks down the life stories of everyone involved and concludes this was merciful act of God since each victim suffered from a love so powerful and unrequited that the last thoughts of the victims was probably something a long the lines of "yay it's over yay yay yayyyyyyy—."
For the monk's troubles, the Inquisition burns him at the stake. He was looking for proof of a just and loving God, which is heretical when you're supposed to take that on faith.
Two. At some point in a gas station or at Meijer or some other place where bad or obscure movies are put on sale for five dollars, I happened across a movie version of Bridge of San Luis Rey. I still remembered the book. Inexplicably, the movie starred Gabriel Byrne, Kathy Bates, and Robert DeNiro(!). I was obviously compelled to purchase it. This did not extend to actually watching it.
Three. My satellite setup is shared with the landlord and sometimes when we want to watch TV he is instead taping every procedural crime drama or nature documentary set in the Far East on television. Yesterday in the afternoon it was Wild China. So my fiancée put on this movie.
Four. The reason we were stymied by Wild China instead of watching the NCAA tournament in Vegas was because Spirit Airlines, which sucks immensely, oversold our flight to Las Vegas and bumped us. This sent me into a rage, destroyed the cost-benefit ratio of going, saw us cancel the trip entirely, and caused me to spend Thursday sulking like a five year old.
Five. On Friday I went to a hockey game. Saturday, too.
The number of Michigan fans that would gladly have seen their sports fandom pitch headlong to its doom has to be hovering near its all-time high right now. You can't voluntarily abandon it because suicide is a sin but, man, that bridge is looking pretty rickety and maybe if I just take all these things I care about and put them on the bridge and go attend to cargo down by the river I'll come back to find no trace of them and I can go be interested in crochet. There's no such thing as unrequited crochet.
As reactions to this year of Michigan sports go, turning off the hope and settling down into a prolonged malaise is obvious. I was planning some sort of gallows-humor-laden celebration when the three major sports seasons had finally expired and kind of hoping the hockey team would gack it up against Lake State just so it would over sooner. This was always hypothetical. Once the team got on the ice I was pulling for them, but without much fervor and with an eye on the silver lining if they did what they'd been doing all season. I was thinking about a mock funeral.
Then… that happened.
Putting the spurs to Lake Superior State was one thing, as they were a tenth-place team with some fatal flaw that made Michigan's numerous fatal flaws irrelevant. A dominant sweep was a rare occurrence for Michigan this year, but it could be explained away. Following that by stomping Michigan State in a series that redefined both teams' seasons lit a tiny little flame, though. When Tristin Llewellyn (of all people!) blasted a puck past Cody Reichard, it was on: the terror of a high-stakes game you are fully invested in. It had been a long time since one of those went the right way.
Something did flip on this team when Shawn Hunwick was forced into the starting lineup. The relentless defensive intensity from Hunwick's first game, when he saw maybe two shots with any hope of going in, has been a constant feature since his insertion. That's equal parts insult and tribute: the team both needs and wants to protect their miniscule walk-on goaltender. In doing so they've found the formula for success that eluded them so painfully the throughout the season and given Michigan fans reason to believe in heretical things like Benevolent Michigan Walk-On Tolerating God.
I guarantee you this: no group of people has ever been as excited about Fort Wayne, Indiana, as Michigan hockey fans are right now.
Yost Built is doing a round of apologies in the aftermath and I have a couple to offer up of my own:
Tristin Llewellyn not only scored but avoided any penalties that meant something (he took one with a few seconds left in a 5-2 game against Miami) and failed do anything that made me mentally exclaim "Llewellyn!" in the same tone of voice Jerry Seinfeld says "Newman!"
That latter is the way I usually judge individual defense: number of "Newman!" plays where someone's obvious error leads to a scoring chance versus number of anti-Newmans where something that looks threatening is snuffed out by a good play. (I know this is far from a complete evaluation but it's the best I can do live.) Llewellyn had a half Newman early in the Northern game when he came up too aggressively as NMU broke the zone, but he had backcheckers and nothing came of it. He had two or three anti-Newman plays against Miami, which is That Miami. Best weekend of his career? Probably.
Louie Caporusso came in for repeated criticism this year as he and David Wohlberg failed to even approximate their 2009 production. At a couple points I suggested that this was the real Caporusso, a decent second-liner and nothing more, and that the blazing hot start to his sophomore year was the aberration. Yeah… Caporusso is now two points off a PPG. Yost Built has details:
When Caporusso was a Hobey-finalist a year ago, he had 24-25--49, but scored just six goals after the first of the year--and five of those were against LSSU, WMU, and a dreadful FYS team. This year it's the opposite. After just 7 goals in his first 30 games, Caporusso has now ripped off 13 goals and 20 points in the last 13, which includes five multi-goal games and a playmaker. He also hasn't gone consecutive games without a point this calendar year.
Theory as to what happened: Caporusso's okay but not great at stickhandling, crazy Hensick goal against Michigan State nonwithstanding, and he spent large chunks of the year attempting to do everything himself. This resulted in a lot of lost possession and not much else. When the team picked up its play, Caporusso had more faith in his teammates to get him the puck in dangerous areas, which has shifted the focus of his game from his stickhandling to his lethal wrister and ability to get open in dangerous areas. Both of Caporusso's goals against Northern resulted from that, as did the shot that zinged off the inside of the post immediately before his second.
Shawn Hunwick. By the third period of the Northern game, Shawn Hunwick-specific terror had dissipated and was replaced by a slightly lower-level General Oh My God panic. His team is helping him out immensely, but after eight full games his save percentage is .912. I admit that I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop here, but at this point you have to let it ride.
- At no point have I said anything about Carl Hagelin that would require an apology, but I should probably mention that if either of his linemates takes a step forward or they throw an offensive-minded player on his wing, his points could blow up next year to the point where he's a serious Hobey contender. There are only six players who 1) have more points than Hagelin this year, 2) play in a Big Four conference, and 3) can return next year. A couple of those guys play for RPI and UMass, teams that aren't likely to be good enough to get their guys into the Hobey top three, and none of them can possibly be as spectacular two-way players as Hagelin. The big problem is fellow Swede Gustav Nyquist, a sophomore for Maine who has 61 points.
Hoo boy did I hate a number of calls this weekend. I did not see the Miami guy clock Wohlberg into the boards and can't offer an opinion on whether that was two or five. I did think Glendening was done as soon as that hit was delivered, FWIW.
However, how the hell does a Northern guy plow Michigan's Happy Meal toy of a goalie without so much as a shove and not get a goal interference or charging call? How does the Miami game turn into a throwback where penalties are only called when there's bone showing?
Also, I've seen this call often enough to assume that it's actually the correct call but it's immoral: when a defenseman (Steve Kampfer in this case) lays an open-ice check on a guy who's about to receive a pass and that guy has just whiffed on a puck he could easily have touched, that gets called as interference. That drives me crazy. It should be like the NFL rule. If the defender gets there after the pass has gone through a small area around you it's a good play.
- I still don't understand why Winnett is playing the point on the power play. Michigan has Langlais, Kampfer, Burlon, and either Summers or Moffie available on defense. Three of those guys have more points than Winnett; Burlon is equal with him and Moffie is just two back despite playing only 29 games. Some of those guys aren't spectacular defensively but I'm betting they're all more comfortable there than Winnett. Winnett's a fourth line forward on a team with a ton of offensive defensemen. I don't get his usage there at all. Last weekend he shot numerous pucks into defenders and set up a couple shorthanded chances for the opposition.
- Scooter got pulled up onto the third line when Glendening went out and did well; in the third period I don't think the fourth line got more than a shift. I don't think he'll move up in the pecking order since Michigan is adding at least one more forward than they lose (this perhaps foolishly assumes no NHL departures) but I'd be comfortable with him as an energy guy wherever he ends up.
Daily story and gallery. Also a CHN article, attention from Puck Daddy, AnnArbor.com coverage Rivals promises "Swedish trash talk" in a Hagelin interview. 2011 recruit Lucas Lessio is projected as a first-round NHL draft pick. The Wolverine Blog on the game.
Wow. After years of screwing one and two-seeded Michigan teams, the committee went off the reservation and gave Michigan the kindest possible draw in the history of draws:
1. Miami vs. 4. Alabama-Huntsville
2. Bemidji State vs 3. Michigan
That bracket is crazy better than going to Massachusetts to play WCHA champion North Dakota and facing a probable road game against BC if you survive that. Michigan gets to play virtual home games against Bemidji, the #8 overall seed—North Dakota is #5—and probably Miami, a team they just beat handily. I have no idea why the committee would do this except the big one: attendance. Fort Wayne is now going to be packed and Michigan's chances of making it to Detroit probably just doubled. This is totally unfair for the rest of the field.
UPDATE: Just to emphasize what a favor the committee just did Michigan, everyone thinks KRACH is a much better rating system than the Pairwise. KRACH has North Dakota 4th and Bemidji 13th. In its world, Michigan is 10th and actually a favorite in the first round game. Of course, then Michigan has to take on #2 Miami instead of #5 BC, but I'll take it.
UPDATE II: Tickets here.
I'm not actually in Las Vegas. It's a short but spittle-flecked story I'll get into on Monday. But I can tell you that this is the likely bracket Michigan finds itself in:
4. Boston College vs 13. Alaska
5. North Dakota vs 12. Michigan
It's a pretty brutal bracket: ND first and probably BC in Boston next, but Michigan isn't in a position to complain. Confirmation tomorrow, but the final bracket has no conflicts and there's no chance it will be significantly different.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Northern Michigan, CCHA Championship Game|
|WHERE||Joe Louis Arena, Detroit|
|WHEN||Championship @ 7:35 PM.|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
The math is complicated—Michigan actually dropped in the pairwise after beating Miami—but the stakes are simple and immense: win and make the NCAA tournament as the worst matchup ever for some poor one seed. Lose and miss the tournament for the first time in twenty years.
Record. 20-11-8, 13-9-9 CCHA with three shootout wins, good for fourth place. They are locked into an NCAA tourney bid. Northern tied with Michigan for the CCHA's second best goal differential at +14. Their overall differential is +22; Michigan is currently +42 thanks to their tear through the CCHA playoffs, albeit in three extra games.
After scoring the the last first-round bye, Northern swept Alaska 4-3 and 5-1, then squeezed by Ferris in OT at the Joe. Northern's goal came a minute into OT, so it shouldn't affect their legs.
Northern's been on a tear since getting swept at UNO in late January. Since then they're 10-1-2 in a stretch of games that included four against Alaska, three against Ferris state, and two against Michigan. Michigan, FWIW, was Northern's only loss in that stretch.
Previous meetings. The teams split their only series of the year in late February, and that was at Yost. Friday was a 3-1 Northern win with a familiar script: Michigan outshot the Wildcats 39-21 but couldn't get anything except a first period Hagelin goal. Northern scored on two of its first five shots and that was enough.
The Saturday game was wild after a fairly calm first period that saw Greger Hanson score an unassisted goal on a terrible turnover from Kampfer. Michigan took the lead in the second, Northern tied it, and then Michigan took the lead again. In the third, Michigan blew the lead by yielding two goals in little over a minute; four minutes after that they would get goals from Chad Langlais and Greg Pateryn to retake the lead and close the scoring. Pateryn's goal was a JMFJ-esque swoop in from the point and a bizarre way for a stay-at-home defenseman to score the first goal of his career. Michigan outshot Northern 32-27.
FWIW, Michigan had four more power play opportunities over the two games. We will see this was not a coincidence.
First team All-CCHA forward and Hobey finalist Mark Olver (right) is the team's leading scorer with 19-29-48. He plays with a couple of sophomores. Andrew Cherniwchan has an 11-16-27 and Tyler Gron a 10-10-20. This leaves Northern a second dangerous line of double-digit scorers: Greger Hanson (16-22-38), Justin Florek (11-21-32) and Ray Kaunisto (17-14-31). On defense, Erik Gustafsson was the CCHA's best offensive defenseman. He has a 3-28-31 line.
Northern has two extremely strong lines, which will again prevent the Hagelin Solution from working perfectly, but after those two lines the dropoff is steep. There's one guy with 22 points on the season and then it's 12, 11, etc. Michigan can't afford to let the third and fourth lines put anything on the board. You can see the dropoff in the +/- numbers: the top two lines are all at least +8 and most are somewhere in the +12 to +18 range. The third and fourth lines are somewhere between +2 and –9. Michigan has three solid lines and should be able to make hay when Northern's first two units are on the bench.
Northern is just above average offensively despite the strong top two lines: their 3.08 goals per game is 22nd nationally. Michigan is up to 12th at 3.31.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Senior Brian Stewart is NMU's unquestioned starter. His backup has only played about six games worth of hockey. Stewart has a 2.41 GAA and a .926 save percentage that's fourth(!) nationally after Michigan knocked Cody Reichard from a .930 to a .924. Does everyone Michigan play have to have a crazy save percentage?
Defensively, Northern is experienced and boring past Gustafsson. Freshman Kyle Follmer and senior TJ Miller are +16 and +17, respectively; senior Alan Dorich is +7 despite rocking an 0-2-2 line. That's your top four. The third pairing is shaky.
Northern is 12th nationally in scoring defense at 2.51 per game; Michigan is 7th at 2.31. Shawn Hunwick's save percentage is up to .908.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||4.4||5.6|
|PP Ag / G||5.7||5.3|
Northern is a heavily penalized team that spends significantly more time in the box than their opponents do. A repeat of the Yost PP disparity seems likely, though if Shegos and Wilkins call the game like they did yesterday—think NHL circa 1995—there will be a lot of should-calls that get ignored.
However, despite the penalty disparity Northern has scored and yielded an equal number of goal on special teams: 35 for, 35 against. Opponents are shooting just .097 on power plays; Northern is shooting .172. Overall, Northern's kill is 17th nationally at 84.3% and their power play is 10th at 20.5%. Michigan's kill is 9th; their power play is 19th.
Northern actually leads the country in a funky stat College Hockey Stats tracks called "combined special teams" that adds up all your opportunities and counts your successes, but that stat slants heavily towards teams that spend a disproportionate share of their time killing penalties. If I had to hazard a guess I'd say Northern is amongst the worst teams in the country in that ratio.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever the hell it is you have been doing lately. Against Miami, Michigan did not spend 80% of its time in the opponent's end like they did in the first two rounds of the CCHA playoffs, but they did tilt the ice slightly in their favor against a team that was +61 in the CCHA this year. They deserved to beat Miami.
I mean no disrespect to a Northern team that is currently hotter than hell, but if Michigan can do that to a team that is definitely That Miami when it comes to hockey, most of this game will probably be played in the Northern end. Supporting evidence: Northern has been outshot on the year by a margin of about five per game. Michigan is outshooting opponents 34-23. That might not be enough for a win given the shooting/save percentages, but it's better than the alternative.
If Michigan can keep the turnovers down and keep clearing the dozen terrifying pucks that kick out into the slot, they will be in good shape. The overall goal differential here is big: despite the fact that Northern (13th) is only four slots back of Michigan (9th) in scoring margin, Michigan is +1.0 and Northern is +0.56.
Clone Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines. I'm pretty sure they did this after watching Miami turn the puck over in its own end time and again because of heavy Michigan forechecking. Michigan had its share of scary moments against the equally fast Redhawks, but I don't think Northern quite has the skating those guys do. Sans Michigan turnovers, their third and fourth lines are going to be hard pressed to do anything except get off the ice without giving up a goal.
Stay out of the box. Northern takes a lot of penalties and doesn't draw many but that power play is lethal. I think Michigan would prefer most of the game to be played five on five. This would make that 1995 NHL era refereeing a positive for Michigan.
The Big Picture
Win or go home.
MVictors returns from the Joe with a bevy of pictures and one Awesome Crappy Photoshop. Yost Built recaps the Miami game.