|WHAT||Michigan at Northwestern|
|LINE||M –1 (Kenpom)|
Remember when Michigan hadn't been to the tourney in ten years? Multiply that by infinity, give them a shot, and that is this game. Sippin' on Purple:
Hey, Northwestern's playing tonight! And it's not important at all! BREATHES HEAVILY INTO PAPER BAG) Hahahahahahahaha basketball is fun! (DIES)
So, Northwestern fans experiencing the team's first true bubble run don't really know how to feel. It turns out I've mastered the correct feeling, and here's how you do it: AFJKLSDSA;KLFJDL;ASJKADLS;KJFDAS WHAT WHAT IS HAPPENING AHHHHHH AHHHH EVERY SINGLE BASKETBALL GAME WE PLAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER TO HAPPEN EVER AND I'M NOT EVEN JOKING. There. Just be like that.
One of these pictures is of John Shurna, but which one? Okay, fine, you got it. It's the beak. Dead giveaway.
Penn State is terrible, Purdue is at home, and by the time Michigan plays Illinois Champaign will be in the throes of civil war. Thus tonight's game against Northwestern is Michigan's most daunting hurdle left. Kenpom says @ Illinois is more difficult but Kenpom cannot take the breakdown of civil society there into account.
Meanwhile, the stakes. Oh, the stakes. If Michigan wins they'll probably double their chances of getting a share of their first Big Ten title since 1986. If Northwestern wins they probably double their chances of getting their first tourney bid since the Big Bang. If Northwestern gets to 9-9 in conference they are in, and they have games against Iowa and Penn State left. Road game, sure, but their path to the a bid is clear if they defend home court tonight. Expect Welsh-Ryan to be bats. What's that, Stu Douglass?
"That gym's pretty small and it doesn't get too loud"
Expect Welsh-Ryan to be double bats.
The Wildcats got the preview treatment already. The main change since then has been due to injury: Luka Mirkovic has been out with an ankle sprain that must be of the dreaded "high" variety for him to miss so much time. In his absence, secret albatross John Shurna has played a lot of center—Northwestern's primary lineup these days is basically Michigan's lineup with Smotrycz on the floor and Morgan on the bench. Mirkovich did not play against Minnesota on Saturday and it doesn't seem like he'll return today.
Northwestern will go to a bigger lineup with post-type guy Davide Curletti, who got twenty minutes against the Gophers. Curletti is a lot like Mirkovich statistically but has significantly lower usage and turns the ball over a bit more. This may be due to Curletti playing more against Big Ten competition. Curletti's not much of a concern from the floor (low usage, 44%) or line (57%) and might see his time against Michigan reduced since the rebounding imperative will be lower than it was against Ralph Sampson III and company.
Northwestern also has guard JerShon Cobb back after a long injury absence. His numbers this year are too thin to draw much from; last year he was an inefficient offensive player (45% from 2, 30% from 3, few free throws but few turnovers). He has a reputation as a defensive stopper, however, and may be placed on Burke in an effort to slow him down. The Minnesota game was his first significant playing time since the Illinois game before the first Michigan-NU matchup of the year; he went 0-3 from the floor (all threes) in 24 minutes but had five steals.
Those are the relative newcomers. The team's engine is still John Shurna and Drew Crawford, who you know about. Shurna has massive usage, plays 92% of the time, never turns the ball over, and shoots 43% from 3. Crawford's got Hardaway-level usage, never turns the ball over, and shoots 40% from 3. Both are around 52-53% from inside the arc. They're quality.
The third banana is coming on like gangbusters as the season draw to a close. That's freshman point guard Dave "Sobocop" Sobolewski (right), who is averaging 14.8 points per game over the past six. He's got 22 assists to 8 turnovers in that span and is hitting 56% of his threes. He's only had one stinker in there (three points against Indiana) and if he can keep that up Northwestern's going to be hard to beat on their home floor.
Though Sobolewski was just okay against Michigan the first time out he impressed with his ability to get to the basket. Again: Michigan should closely monitor all Northwestern recruiting classes for opportunities to violate gentleman's agreements.
Aside from the three bolded fellows and the guys who need no introduction there aren't many other players to mention. Only two bench players got more than a minute against the Gophers: Curletti and Alex Marcotullio. He and Reggie Hearn are generic Northwestern low-usage guards with a lot of threes and not much else. Hearn does get off a decent number of two pointers.
It's been a while since Michigan eked out a two-point OT win over the Wildcats in Crisler. Since that game Northwestern has gone 5-5 in the league. They beat Michigan State at Welsh-Ryan and then took care of some of the league's poorer teams at home; they also helped initiate the Illinois death spiral by beating them 74-70 at Assembly Hall, Champaign Edition.
On the less-happy side of the ledger they suffered double-digit road losses against Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue, a five-point road loss against Indiana, and a two-point home loss against Purdue.
Conference four factors:
|Factor||Offense (Rk)||Defense (Rk)||Avg|
|Effective FG%:||54.4 1||52.9 10||49|
|Turnover %:||17.1 4||18.4 7||20.8|
|Off. Reb. %:||24.6 12||36.3 12||32.5|
|FTA/FGA:||40.2 4||38.7 2||36.5|
Northwestern is Michigan only moreso. They are getting hammered on the boards in the post-Mirkovich era, and while they make up for that with excellent shooting on the offensive end—as a team they are hitting almost 40% of their threes in the Big Ten—they can't make up for the crappy defensive rebounding with good FG defense like Michigan does. As a result they're the second-worst D in the league, in front of only Iowa.
As you might expect, Northwestern launches a huge quantity of threes (44%, 7th nationally) and gets a ton of assists (65% of made field goals are assisted, 6th nationally); they also give up a lot of threes at a high rate of success and a low plenty of assists themselves.
Run 'em off the line. In a marked contrast with every other team in the league, Michigan should not have to double when the ball goes in the post—if the ball goes in the post—and can stick with their shooters. If Curletti is going to put it up, fine. If Shurna's willing to work for a two, fine. If a team that's hitting 40% from three gets a bunch of them, not so much.
The key thing to watch here is Sobolewski and Crawford penetrating. Without a post presence, Northwestern generates its open threes with a lot of penetrate-and-kick. Sobolewksi was effective at this in the first game. Trey Burke is going to have to D up a lot more than he did against the passive Aaron Craft. Stu Douglass will likely draw Crawford, and that will be okay unless he starts sinking a bunch of contested jumpers. Which could happen.
Anyway: reducing the numbers of threes taken is a priority. Michigan did a good job of this in the first game, holding the Wildcats to just 13 threes. That and a ton of offensive rebounding (17 on 44 opportunities) eventually gave them the win despite shooting 7 of 30 behind the arc themselves.
Morg-ownage: possible? Shurna at the five has been a problem for a lot of Big Ten defenses. Michigan would seem in better shape than most with Jordan Morgan, a relatively quick center who has the stamina to chase Shurna around the court. If Morgan can cope defensively, Michigan should have an advantage on the other end of the court when it comes to offensive rebounding. Yes, they're more than rumors.
Is that likely? Well… Shurna had 21 points on 15 shots in the first matchup. So maybe not. Morgan may be able to outrun most centers in the league but guarding Shurna on the perimeter has been an issue. So then you've got Smotrycz, whose defense is… inconsistent.
Morgan needs to dominate the boards here to make up for what will be an awkward matchup with Shurna.
Make some threes. Northwestern gives up a ton of quality three point opportunities and allows opponents to shoot 50% from two. There aren't a whole lot of bad shots when you play the Wildcats.
Michigan just has to hit them. That 7 of 30 thing is going to be tough to overcome on the road. Michigan's been judicious and effective from deep in the past couple games. Let's hope it continues. If Michigan can hit 35% instead of 23% they will win comfortably.
Yes, this bullet is basically "score points!"
Bench help. Matt Vogrich can be useful in this game; Evan Smotrycz will have a relatively even matchup when he's in at the five.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one. Sippin' On Purple's Rodger Sherman literally dies. The second part is not a part of the Kenpom prediction, at least not yet.
"If we play the way we play against everyone else, it opens things up for things they want to do offensively, such as back-door plays and cuts," Jordan said. "We have to figure out how to make a new habit in two days (of practice)."
But for Jordan, his task is daunting because he doesn't want to miss a single detail or not be prepared when the game plan is presented in practice to the players and coach John Beilein.
"The goal is to eliminate surprises. You want to try to crack the code," he said. "You want to give some sense of what maybe to expect, but a lot of it is personnel-driven."
That Sippin' on Purple item is also a game preview.
Other basketball takes. Grantland* oddly dispatched a guy to cover the Michigan-Northwestern game. He comes back with an impression of Ann Arbor clearly derived from the rims clanging so loud it sounds like a Gary, Indiana, steel mill before it closed in 1979, but once he gets past the grim midwesternness of it all it's a good piece:
. In the post, Smotrycz and Novak get rough with Shurna, putting their bodies into him, bumping him off the ball, and generally making him fight for every inch. Shurna hates this physicality, hates it viscerally and philosophically and every other way you can hate something. More often than not, he casts a look at the referee, hoping for a foul call, before retreating to the perimeter. He'll finish the game with 21 points, but after his second jumper of the half, with 19 long minutes remaining, he's scored all but four of that total. The rest of the game is a vanishing act.
I still think whenever Beilein ends up with an open scholarship late he should scour Northwestern's commitments for whoever their totally rad guy is going to be. That seems preferable to snatching Colton Christian away from low majors.
Holdin' the Rope credits Denard in the headline and provides a link to the Novak dunk that brought down the house during Michigan's 10-0 second half run:
Re: Denard, A half-dozen Michigan football players including Roy Roundree and Denard held court in the student section after they were honored for winning the Sugar Bowl. One thing you can say about Michigan football: they are not too cool for school.
HTR also dubs freshman NU PG Dave Sobolewski "Sobocop" in an attempt to insult him for prompting the Morgan tech. This will certainly backfire and cause Northwestern fans to admiringly dub him that for the rest of his career. Sippin' On Purple, make this happen.
*[Grantland pays Brian Phillips and Chris Brown money to write about sports. I'm not hearing criticism of it even if it runs some dumb stuff. That's easy enough to ignore; the good bits are very good. VIVA LOS SIMMONS.]
Donnal update. Even Jordan Morgan is impressed by this stat:
Perhaps no one on the team has bought in to the new approach more than Mark Donnal, the 6-9 junior who is already committed to the University of Michigan. The league's top post player is averaging a team-high 20.4 points and 8.7 rebounds after averaging 15 points and seven boards last season.
Donnal, who probably receives more double-teams near the basket than any other player in the NLL, is sinking 79 percent of his shots from the field, as well as from the foul line.
Big guys in high school usually tower over opponents and can just oaf their way to easy buckets, but if you've seen any video of Donnal you know he's unusually skilled for a 6'9" post type. He's Pittsnogalian.
That sounds like an adjective from a lost chapter of Gulliver's Travels featuring a race of lovable, enormous tattooed weirdos. It's a keeper, that is.
CSB midterms. The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau has released their midseason rankings, which are the first to put a number on prospects rather than a vague letter. Voila:
#9 Jacob Trouba
#28 Phil Di Giuseppe (freshman)
#31 Boo Nieves
#82 Alex Kile (2013)
#157 Connor Carrick
#175 Justin Selman
Incoming goalie Jared Rutledge is the #36 goalie, which would mean he's not getting drafted. Daniel Milne and future Rutledge backup Steve Racine are the only draft-eligible recruits not listed.
Trouba is the top-ranked American. A CSB scout on him:
“Jacob has offensive skills and he really does defend well. You can just tell by how he plays in all areas of the ice that he’s a big kid who skates really well, he loves to jump into the play and has confidence because he knows his skating can get him back, so he rarely gets caught out of position. He’s going to be someone people are going to talk about; we’ve known about him for a couple years and he’s not disappointing this year.”
Remember that these are North American skater rankings only; Europeans and goalies will push these folks down. Those are mid-second-round ratings for PDG and Nieves, not late first.
WCH calls out Connor Carrick as notably under-ranked; if that's true Michigan will definitely have five draftees with Selman a potential sixth. Kile is a surprise. One: I didn't know he was draft eligible this year. Two: he's got 7-8-15 in 29 games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, which is a far cry from the 38, 35, 30, 29 you see at the top of their scoring charts. He's kind of big at 6-foot, 195, but not the kind of big that gets you drafted above your skill level by the NHL.
Meanwhile in the odious machinations of junior hockey magnates. Nieves's rights were traded in the deadline flurry. This is never good, but Nieves has reconfirmed that he has no interest in the OHL:
Nieves was traded to Saginaw, which isn't any closer to home than Michigan or notorious for shelling out under the table payments. Also if he was going to leave he had an opportunity before signing up for another year of prep hockey with Matt Herr. Usually when a player committed to college changes his mind it's the year before he's scheduled to arrive. Only the specter of competing against Shawn Hunwick is sufficient motivation to ditch when college is around the corner.
Meanwhile in things you'd do for a dollar. Rumor is the Winter Classic is headed to Michigan in the near future, and not just the state:
Multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports this week that the NHL is in advanced discussions with the University of Michigan about holding the 2013 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.
One source, who spoke on a condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon wasn't initially sold on the idea of the NHL hosting an outdoor game at Michigan Stadium. But over a matter of a couple of weeks, the source said "something happened to make it go from looking like it could happen to [a point where] it probably will."
No doubt long deliberations with a man dressed in a curly fries outfit eventually led to the breakthrough. Would Dave Brandon threaten to break Michigan's own attendance record and hopelessly conflict a ton of people when Michigan inevitably plays a bowl game on the same day? Yes. The curly fries are very convincing, and there is at least one dollar in it.
Guh. I only talk about coaches who coach for Michigan unless I need to give Tony Gibson minus even more of the points:
The previous CB coach, Gibson, who I believe also is joining the Arizona staff, wasn't big on technique, at least not when he was a WVU. Players have stated that he would tell them, "just get to the spot." Lockwood came in and changed that, and with that change came nice strides of improvement in the cornerbacks.
Unfortunately, the spot was ten yards away from the receiver.
Etc.: The university's policy of exorbitant FOIA fees is an embarrassment. Roundtree's looking for a bigger role next year. BC Interruption is feeling the MGoPlayoff. Horford may be able to return this year. Silver lining if he can't: the ensuing redshirt will give some separation between Michigan's bigs, three of whom may leave in the same year if McGary is two-and-out. UMHoops picture pages a bunch of out of bounds plays.
1/11/2011 – Michigan 66, Northwestern 64 (OT) – 14-3, 4-1 Big Ten
I blame the Sugar Bowl trophy. Clearly, this edition has fey powers. Those powers are 1) making everything around it uglier so that it seems pretty in comparison and 2) driving Michigan towards improbable victories it does not seem to deserve.
Because of the trophy's presence we got an extensive dose of the exasperated wail basketball has a near-monopoly on*. Scoring is so frequent that extended droughts are rare, rarer still when the team in question is getting of a wide variety of high-quality shots. When that happens and the home team is still missing, still missing, still—argh that one was halfway down—missing, each subsequent missed opportunity comes with a rising crescendo of despair. Normally calm old men start throwing their hands hither and thither. People lose their minds the fifth time "all right, two points" turns into "how did you miss that?"
By my calculations, all minds in Crisler last night were lost 2.4 times in the first half. Michigan limped to the locker room trailing by seven after shooting 25% on their twos. One three that bounced in and around the rim before popping out caused a guy in front of me to undergo this sort of arms-raised twitchy anger dance. I felt ill.
It didn't seem like the team was playing poorly—at least not on offense—but rather that it had been cosmically ordained from above that Michigan was to lose this game. If it had been a video game, 15 minutes in would have been controller-throwing, reset-hitting, pout-and-watch-TNG time.
But they won, didn't they? They won by brutalizing Northwestern on the boards and in turnover margin, by somewhat limiting Wildcat threes (27% opposed to their usual 33%) and refusing to foul unless someone was launching a wild three with less than a second on the clock. It was ugly and terrible; it was the game that you point to at the end of the season as One Of Those Games. It was the inexplicable loss you suck up and overcome… and they won.
So okay. Damage escaped, Iowa next, let's keep on inching.
Bullets that could use a GPS or something
The hedge. Northwestern fiercely hedged all ball screens with Burke and got away with every single one. Burke tried to split one late and was fortunate to get a tenuous kicked ball call; all other saw him take the long way and not end up punishing the hedge.
This is a spot in which Morris had a major advantage because he was a half-foot taller and lanky. Hedge like that and the ball is going to the big slipping the screen for a 70% chance at a Jordan Morgan basket, or Morris will peel around the big guy with a good chance at catching him out of position and using his height to get a solid look. Burke… well, we need some work there.
Hypothesis 1: he should try to use his quickness by accelerating into the hedger before he can get set and get those Chauncey Billups calls. Hypothesis 2: we should run more pick and roll with Hardaway, who can pass over the shorter guy or drive to the basket against a guy who will probably not be blocking his shot. Hardaway has such height and elevation that little pull up jumpers are a high percentage business.
Do you think Beilein would be amenable to answering questions like that?
Small ball. I'm not sure if Northwestern's small lineup killed Michigan or not, what with the massive offensive rebounding numbers Michigan put up and Carmody's decision to go with Mirkovic for most of the stretch. If Michigan's shooting anywhere near a reasonable percentage given their shot quality the offensive benefits of the small lineup are outweighed by their terrible D numbers.
Michigan ended up going small in response, spending much of the second half switching Smotrycz and Morgan O for D; Stu Douglass ended up playing 38 of 45 minutes.
Insane devotion to foul orthodoxy. I can see yanking Smotrycz after his second since Michigan had a reason to go small and Smotrycz is the kind of guy who will foul out if you don't keep an eye on him. But Novak? UMHoops mentioned this gently; I'll restate: guy averages 2.8 fouls per 40 minutes. The risk of bringing him back in for the last five minutes of the first half is not high.
Stu! Douglass has quietly been an effective, important player in the last three games. His shooting helped a lot against Indiana and Wisconsin and his perimeter defense is the best on the team by a wide margin. He had five steals against Wisconsin and two in this game.
Even more importantly, switching Douglass onto Crawford slowed him considerably. In the second half and OT, Crawford had one dunk he was given after Michigan played great defense to deny three-point opportunities as NU wound the clock from 22 seconds to 8 and went 5/6 on free throws from Morgan and Burke fouls. The Douglass matchup:
- 1 steal
- 2 TO
- 1/5 from 2
- 0/1 from 3
IIRC Hardaway had Crawford for most of the first half when he went 6 of 9 with a made three.
Douglass couldn't throw it into Gordon Gee's mouth in this game but since no one other than Hardaway could that's a criticism to save for another time. Even so he was Michigan's second most efficient scorer in this game with 10 points on 10 shots; Hardaway and Burke bested him but Burke only did so thanks to his end-of-game free throw spree.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Ice cold, young man, especially after playing the entire game.
Hardaway launch pad. He took a couple of wince-inducing threes but they went down in this outing. One was a heat check that is not statistically more likely to go in but is impossible to prevent even the meekest low usage guy from taking, so okay.
Two for one. Beilein went for one at the end of the game; it did not work out because the pass to Hardaway was a little off and the resulting Novak three left only a six-second difference between shot and game clock, and then the insane Hardaway foul erased that. Good idea, though.
Speaking of. Ohmygawd what was that at the end of the game? If Northwestern had been in the bonus I think my head would have come off. They are letting almost everything slide and then they call a nothing foul with ten seconds left. Face, meet palm.
And then Douglass hacks the hell out of Crawford because Michigan has fouls to give and the refs ignore that. Quite a sequence there. Don't get me started on Novak trying to take charges.
Timeouts. Argh. All basketball games would be improved by cutting two timeouts. This one would have been immensely so.
*[Hockey has a version of it when one team is throwing chance after chance at a hot goalie and his even hotter goalposts in a close game—call it the Ryan Miller Experience. Baseball has nothing like it and the tenor of a frustrated football crowd is different; the anger is usually more directed. This frustration is a cosmic one.]
PROLOGUE. I kind of feel like I have to preview football games because if I didn't what's to stop this blog from evolving into a version of Bring Your Champions, They're Our Meat with a focus on obscure old videogames instead of European history. Which wouldn't be awful, per se, but wouldn't be a job either.
This existential necessity does not exist for basketball games and previous attempts at regular previews have mostly not said anything super interesting because what is there to say? We shoot the three and then we burn.
But… but… like… there we go with the existential necessity. So. I'm not making any promises, but here is a preview-type substance previewing tonight's game against Northwestern in the hoopythrowsport.
Shurna also has a recurring role on the Simpsons
Northwestern remains the maddening province of Bill Carmody and his one inexplicably good player per year surrounded by insane shootists. Sometimes the shootists are insanely good; sometimes they are lunatic foreigners who have never made a three but will not be dissuaded from trying.
This year's inexplicably good player is John Shurna. Shurna:
- plays nearly 90% of Northwestern's minutes
- shoots nearly 30% of Northwestern's shots
- hits 42% from 3 and 47% from 2
- is extremely responsible with the ball
- kind of looks like an albatross with a broken arm when he shoots.
He's a 6-9 Beilein power forward who Evan Smotrycz will likely guard. Michigan should run at him hooting like maniacs to force him off the three point line.
This year Northwestern has another excellent player: 6'5" wing Drew Crawford. He is at 43% on 67 attempts from 3 and is shooting 56% from inside the arc. He never ever turns the ball over, maintains a usage not quite as huge as Shurna's but still dang impressive, and also is on the floor for 35+ minutes a night.
Their shootists are a trio of no-usage short stuffs who never take twos and collectively average around 37%. Their uniforms read Sobolewski, Hearn, and Marcotullio. The lunatic foreigner is Luka Mirkovic, who's 0 for 9 from three this year and is a typical Northwestern big, which means NU sucks at rebounding.
Note that unlike Beilein, Carmody has stuck with the 1-3-1; expect to see it for big chunks of the game.
THE TEMPO FREE
Northwestern is a version of Michigan in many respects:
|Effective FG%:||53.0 51||48.8 178|
|Turnover %:||15.5 5||21.3 150|
|Off. Reb. %:||25.5 329||34.1 234|
|FTA/FGA:||32.0 265||30.2 55|
They shoot well, rarely turn it over, suck on the boards, don't get to the line, and play mediocre defense. Michigan's versions of these numbers are very similar with one exception: rebounding. Michigan sucks way less at it, to the point where they're actually very good (25th!) defensively. They're a bit below average offensively. Michigan turns it over quite a bit more and shoots it better; they're a more aggressive, more athletic version of the Wildcats.
They're 65th in Kenpom. Michigan is currently 26th. Kenpom projects a nine-point M victory.
NU played four Kenpom top 100 nonconference opponents and went 2-2, beating LSU and Seton Hall while losing to Baylor (by 28!) and Creighton. They also beat GT, the Penn State of the ACC, by 16. In the Big Ten they were annihilated at OSU, easily beat turrible Penn State at home, and lost a nailbiter to Illinois at home. They had a couple close shaves against poor teams, but Michigan is in no place to criticize that particular flaw.
Evan Smotrycz: your help defense is not required. I will go "ooooooh" like Yosemite Sam if Shurna gets an open three because Smotrycz is sagging off of him. If Shurna beats M, let it be from two-point range.
Going small may be to your benefit. Against the 1-3-1 having another ballhandler will help pick it apart, and it's not like Mirkovich is going to go off for 20 or whatever.
Tim Hardaway's inner Trey Burke. Hardaway is not a very good defensive player and will get a challenge from Crawford. Hopefully he can step up like Burke did against Jordan Taylor.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by nine.
Etc.: Rothstein on the Shurna/Smotrycz comparisons.
About Last Saturday:
Purdue 14, Michigan 36
Caption contest. Go.
The Road Ahead:
Iowa (5-3, 2-2 B1G)
Last game: Iowa 21, Minnesota 22 (L)
Recap: The only thing worse than questing for title of “Worst Big Ten Team EVER” is losing to that team, which Iowa did on Saturday. Flags in Iowa City flew at half mast to honor the death of Gopherquest -- and themselves, in the eyes of Brian Cook.
Two deaths and a funeral indeed.
Let’s take a look at the autopsy report: Thanks to a couple missed field goals, the game was close through the third quarter until Iowa scored to go ahead 21-10 early in the fourth, seemingly poised to finally wrest it out of Minnesota’s reach.
After a Hawkeyes fumble and Gophers field goal, however, Minnesota converted a fourth and one from their own 42 and scored a touchdown a couple plays later.
The Gophers onside kicked, catching Iowa by surprise. Minnesota recovered and miraculously scored again on a fourth-down conversion at the Iowa three.
Flailing, the Hawkeyes went four-and-out and were then helpless to stop the Gophers from running out the clock.
Remarkably, Iowa RB Marcus Coker carried the ball 32 times for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns in an outstanding effort no Iowa fan will ever remember. Imagine if Pheidippides had made it all the way to Athens only to collapse before delivering his message. Instead of inspiring an entire culture of running a couple millenia later, now he’s just a clammy dead guy.
Right now they are as frightening as: A watered down version of 2007 Michigan immediately post-Horror -- not as good, therefore not as embarrassed. Still hiding under a blanky though. 5.
Michigan should worry about: The first real manball team on the schedule not playing in a trash tornado. Also the last.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Iowa had the rhabdomyolysis problem in the offseason, which seems to have scared the CARA out of the strength staff. (Do you see what I did there?)
As a result, Iowa’s defense looks like it’s been playing Wii Fit in lieu of real conditioning. They made Iowa State QB Steele Jantz look like Andrew Luck, allowed Penn State to go Look-Ma-No-QB, and couldn’t stop Marqueis Gray when it mattered -- incidentally, all of these things happened in the fourth quarter.
When Michigan plays them: 2011 Iowa is undefeated at home. 2011 Michigan is undefeated in November. Immovable object meet unstoppable force? Hah.
For realsies now: Iowa’s best win was against Pitt. This was the game where Vandenberg led the epic comeback against a Tony Gibson coached secondary, earning him the Vandenhenneberg moniker. The joke is getting stale, but if you were still wondering, that along with BGHP’s gushing comparison at the beginning of the season is where it comes from. Their next best win was against Northwestern, and you know all about Northwestern’s secondary. And then if you keep looking you fall off a cliff right before the Indianas and Lousiana-Monroes of the world, where concerns about the secondary are, well … secondary.
Sorry, I had to do that.
The Wolverines secondary is much better these days, having survived Alex Carder, Michael Floyd, Dan Persa, and B.J. Cunningham (electing to fall prey to Keshawn Martin instead). Teams succeeded against VandenMcHenneNutt by preventing deep routes. Michigan’s inside-and-in-front philosophy should be able to do at least that.
And then there’s the issue of the Hawkeyes defense. Their major breakdowns tend to happen late in the game due to the aforementioned stamina problems. Aside from targeting specific weakness (see Ace’s FFFF), offensive playcalling that spreads and stretches the field laterally to wear down Iowa defenders would be a smart approach, especially early in the game.
(more after the jump)
Sometimes I post on Wednesday, sometimes I post on Thursday. Ideally I should post on Tuesday, but ideally Michigan should be undefeated.
Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (4-3, 2-1 B1G)
Last game: No. 23 Illinois 14, Purdue 21 (W)
Recap: If you want something more than handwaving, see Ace’s FFFF.
In a nutshell, Purdue managed two real drives in the first half while stymieing Illinois’ offense for a good 50 minutes before the Illini finally came to. As Ace indicates, the Boilermakers didn’t so much win this game as Illinois lost it: Purdue is a not very good team that happened to play well. The Illini were a better team that made enough mistakes to beat themselves. Sometimes you can bring a knife to a gunfight and prevail because the guys with the guns shoot at each other first. That’s not the best analogy but you get the point.
Right now they are as frightening as: After losing to Rice and narrowly escaping Middle Tennessee State at the beginning of the season, Purdue has improved enough to play Penn State close and beat a ranked Illinois team. What does this mean?
It means that the Big Ten isn’t very good. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Underestimating Purdue’s defense. While not stellar as a unit, they’re fairly opportunistic, led by a secondary that is competent to good. CB Ricardo Allen, the guy who intercepted Denard last year and hurdled him for a 94-yard touchdown, is still on the team. He’s a sophomore, so we’ll be seeing him for a while.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Saturday’s weather forecast says 52 degrees and partly cloudy with 0 percent chance of trash. Roy Roundtree's Donald Duck voice.
When Michigan plays them: Is Michigan good enough to not beat itself? Most signs point to yes. This game may not be pretty--you should avert your eyes every time a Purdue running back makes for the sideline or when Denard throws a duck into coverage--but a barring a complete collapse on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines should at least be able to grind out a win.
Next game: at No. 17 Snake Oil Emporium