I think you will get your wish.
3/20/2011 – Michigan 71, Duke 73 – 21-14, 9-9 Big Ten, season over
This is the point where the author is obliged to disclaim any belief in moral victories, whatever that means.
Wikipedia's article on the concept is a poorly-written stub that goes right to the sports definition before making a couple of flaccid thrusts in the direction of applicability outside of sportswriting disclaimers. Those thrusts are getting crushed to death by rocks but keeping the land in the family, dying at the Alamo, or dying at Thermopylae and seem to indicate the anonymous author has never heard of a Pyrrhic victory. That last link goes to a much, much better article that indirectly confirms that "moral victory" has no currency amongst the sort of people—scientists, historians, television fans—that make for good wikipedia articles. Moral victories, and disclaiming them, appear to be the exclusive domain of people who have just watched their sport-ball team exceed expectations just enough to suffer an agonizing loss.
After disclaiming the moral victory, the author then explains why he feels better about the sport-ball team in question than he did before the sport-ball match in which his team was defeated agonizingly, which kind of seems like exactly what a moral victory is. This makes the disclaimer the equivalent of "I'm not a racist, but…": a lie meant to deflect criticism.
I hate the concept of moral victories and denounce anyone who accepts them. Truly, the only thing worth striving for is numerical superiority, and claiming mitigating factors when you have not achieved numerical superiority is indicative of a diseased mind and probably communism. Love it or leave it.
That said, we totally just beat Duke.
Not, like, you know, when it comes to numbers or anything, but definitely when it comes to not embodying class privilege and being able to parse sentences about Grant Hill's family. Also almost in the numbers. In fact, if Evan Smotrycz was allowed to exist within three feet of a Duke player on a basketball court, we totally won. I will see you all in the Moral Sweet Sixteen, where we will play Butler despite the fact they're in the actual Sweet Sixteen—that's how crazy that Butler game was.
John Beilein had Michigan sing the Victors after the Duke game. I renounce my renouncing of moral victories. We are moral national champs.
I think that last bit might actually be true: in an "exceeded expectations" tournament Michigan is a one-seed. A quick glance at the Sweet Sixteen reveals chalk, the occasional mid-major expected to be good in-conference that pulled out a couple wins at the right time, the eleventh Big East qualifier, Florida State, and a couple of powers bouncing off down years. The only competition comes from the two MWC teams, San Diego State and BYU, and Ohio State, and none of those teams were responding to a victory over a hated rival by saying "too bad this isn't likely to help score an NIT bid."
I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them*.
So no one's mad. No one's thinking about the other places in which the sun shines and the band plays and men laugh, because though Michigan's Casey struck out on a last-ditch floater no one expected to get anything out of this season other than yet another test of how much grim tolerance you can squeeze out of your pores.
We got much more than that: wins over Michigan State, a tourney bid, a grisly human sacrifice in the first round, and something that was most definitely not a moral victory in the second. We got an Aneurysm Of Leadership, a triple double, Drunken Sailor Assault Basketball, epic Smotrycz wallpaper, a genocidal campaign against backboards, Zack Novak alternate universe posterization, "Get off my court," Tim Hardaway mouthpiece thousand words, Hardaway fighting Harris for efficiency supremacy in context (and eventually winning!), Hardaway engaging killswitch, Matt Vogrich elevating himself into a photoshoppable entity (right), Zack Novak fouling out on five attempts to take a charge, and possibly more muppets than the last three football seasons combined.
We got a season, even if numerical superiority was not acquired against Duke. Next year they threaten to create a program here. If people are naturally leery of an '09 repeat, remember this time around slackers will be bled on by Zack Novak.
*[There was probably a point at which a hockey observer went "whoah," but they were so few and far between then that I'm not even sure that counts. The other main candidate is the '06 football team but in the end they were just another Rose Bowl losing team, so I think that puts them in a second tier.]
The engoodening. How does it do? That question is worthy of a post, or a series of posts, but here's a paragraph or two off the cuff anyway.
Engoodening #1: getting Smotrycz most of his minutes at the four. This would be a combination of development from Smotrycz and Horford. This year the only thing worse than having 6'4" Zack Novak guarding enormous leaping machines like Trevor Mbakwe was having Smotrycz do it, so he ended up at the four and Michigan's defense had a hard cap on how good it could be. Michigan was above average in rebounding nationally but click that conference-only box on Kenpom and Michigan turns red and ends up eighth. They're worse (ninth) at defending two-pointers. Getting Horford significant minutes seems like it will improve both numbers since he's easily Michigan's most athletic big. Insert tallest midget joke here.
Engoodening #2: vicious competition at the guard spots. Adding Burke and Brundidge and getting another year of development from floppy-haired assassin Matt Vogrich will put Douglass's minutes under threat and give Michigan an option other than panic when Morris is on the bench. Though I'm not as down on Douglass as the rest of the internet—he consistently draws the other team's top perimeter scorer, though Michigan's propensity to switch screens makes this not quite as impressive as it would be on other teams—he's an obvious target for opposing teams playing pressure defense and very rarely does anything good happen when he attempts to create a shot. Either he'll get better or someone will take his minutes.
Other bits: Jordan Morgan becomes less of a foul machine, Hardaway shoots like he did over the latter half of the season, Darius Morris develops a corner three a-la Richard Hamilton, leaning a bit more on the bench—for perspective, Michigan is actually more starter-dependent(337th in bench minutes*) than they are young(335th)—makes the starters more effective.
*[This is impressively low in a pool of 345 but isn't good for last in the league. It's not even good for second-to-last: OSU and PSU are both lower. If Sullinger and Buford leave OSU could be in for an ugly year; Penn State is going to be atrocious.]
A rocket to Kenpom. If you're wondering what a 30-point bludgeoning and a two point loss at a "semi-away" venue against the #2 team in the country does to your computer rankings, it makes for an implausibly huge leap. Michigan is now #23 on Kenpom, up from 44th before the tournament IIRC. Tennessee lost ten spots in a single game-type substance.
That's still only good for fifth in the league (Purdue, Wisconsin, and OSU are all top ten and Illinois is 17th) but everyone in front of them is getting smashed by graduation and possibly early draft entry. It's still amazing that if you take every possession Michigan played this year, and adjust it for the strength of schedule only 22 teams would expect to do better.
His Old Kentucky Home. I hope this is the last thing I have to say about people who obviously didn't bother watching the Fab Five documentary, but I bet you a dollar Jim Nantz has done this at some point:
It must be awkward for Clark Kellogg to sit next to Nantz as he goes on his righteous crusade without having even the vaguest grasp of the facts. Nantz managed to indict four people who didn't do anything wrong in the eyes of the NCAA and repeat the canard that Rose said anything at all negative about Grant Hill's family, something Grant Hill, Michael Wilbon ("Calvin and Janet Hill were left hanging out there, depicted as anything other than the model parents that they are"), and now Nantz have asserted.
This is literally everything Rose said about Hill's family:
"I was jealous of Grant Hill. He came from a great black family. Congratulations. Your mom went to college and was roommates with Hillary Clinton. Your dad played in the NFL and was a very well-spoken and successful man. I was upset and bitter that my mom had to bust her hump for 20-plus years. I was bitter that I had a professional athlete that was my father that I didn't know. I resented that moreso than I resented him."
In the end this just confirms everything Jalen Rose thought as an 18-year-old—Hill is still the person the world accepts, and asshats like Jim Nantz can't see through the red mist to see that literally the only things Rose said about Hill's family were they were "great," mom went to college, and dad was "well-spoken and successful."
The charitable interpretation is that Nantz is too stupid to parse the above quote, but I don't think that's true.
Morris return reiteration. Just in case:
“Yep,” Morris said when he was asked if he was definitely returning next season.
This echoes what Morris said a week ago, when he said “yeah, I’m here man. I’m not going anywhere.”
Chantel Jennings in the Daily. Matt Vogrich had his car covered in post-its. He cleared off enough to see and left the rest there. Surprise! No one who was zero years old in 1993 wants to talk about the Fab Five. Stu Douglass epic throwdown vs Tennessee. Also more evidence that taking a picture of Tim Hardaway, Jr., is always a good idea:
2/25/2010 – Michigan 3, NMU 2 – 22-9-4, 19-7-1 CCHA
2/26/2010 – Michigan 5, NMU 0 – 23-9-4, 20-7-1 CCHA – Champions
My AP Biology teachers were not very good at anticipating how much minutia an average high school student could write down in 54 minutes. They consistently wrote tests that were ten minutes too long. This compounded itself over the course of a day, so when we showed up for the last hour there was always a class full of frantic scribblers occupying our seats forever. Forced to wait, definitely not making any bus, and unbound by anyone showing up after us, my class would dribble out of the room anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes after the official end of the school day.
Except for me. Pointless memorization was my jam, man. I blew through the tests in a half hour, then waited outside for a friend who would need a ride. I'm sure this privately infuriated my teachers since most of my time in their class was spent asleep. If I'd failed a test or even not done so well they could have swooped in with Life Lessons, maybe even called my mom to describe what a terrible student I was. But as long as I was the only guy finishing their insane tests on time they were powerless.
Michigan has not been a particularly entertaining hockey team this year. They've been gritty and frustrating and occasionally elegant but only from the back end; Hagelin has been fast and Hunwick surprisingly effective. They split with an awful MSU team and didn't look like they even belonged on the same ice as Miami. They blew leads to tie seemingly all of their nonconference games. They didn't score much in the way they were trying to. It's been jarring.
Even this weekend they spent the first 90 minutes asleep. On Friday, Shawn Hunwick and some emergency defending saw them scrape a win they didn't seem to deserve. On Saturday it was looking like they were going to do the same after the first 26 minutes saw 12 shots total, one of them an attempted pass by Hagelin that a Wildcat deflected into his own net. Since I was watching the internet feed on my computer my melodramatic twitter feed features an existential crisis, incredible frustration, and the phrase "awful, awful, awful."
After the existential crisis the previous class shuffled out and Michigan got down to business. There was a humorous scene in which they wrote so fast smoke rose from the paper. When it cleared no one was even mad two goals had been waved off because four others had stood.
What was that? Was that something that's been there all along but isn't unearthed on the regular, or was it just like Michigan starting the Minnesota basketball game off 6 of 6 from three, a statistical fluke? Should we call Michigan's mother to tell on him?
I'm not sure we can. The test is in and it says "A":
No matter how deeply suspicious we are or are not, the test says "A". Michigan may have gotten blown out of Oxford but Miami won four fewer games in the league. On Saturday Notre Dame had three goals disallowed and scored none against Western Michigan. They did not put a knuckling puck through the Bronco goalie with 40 seconds left, then flick one into the top corner with two left. They allowed twelve more goals than Michigan and scored only three more. I'm still not sure how that's true but it is. Last year Michigan finished seventh in the league, and this year they won it.
Now we come to the knee-buckling section of the schedule. Last year Michigan reached this point down their starting goalie, playing a first-round series for the first time in forever and staring down the barrel of Michigan State, Miami, and someone else if they were going to extend their tourney streak. They did, and then they were robbed of a Frozen Four bid in one of the program's all-time classic games. They died like Vikings, turning their league D into a B.
This year they've got a much easier road. They've guaranteed themselves an at large and won't face either of the CCHA's other elite teams until the final. Hold serve and you're one game away from a one seed and a friendly bracket.
I don't know what to think. Maybe the subtler qualities really do exist and this series of narrow victories is just what happens when you're a really good defensive team that lacks magic midgets. I've never deeply cared about a team like this. Maybe this is what life is like when you've got six good to great defenders and Scooter Vaughn is vying to be your second-leading scorer. Or maybe the Miami series was a dark preview of what will happen whenever Michigan meets an elite opponent.
I'll know in the next month. They've got an A so far, but the only thing that matters in this class is the final. This is not fair. It is, however, college hockey.
The usual extreme detail from mfan_in_ohio.
Somewhat briefer: for a moment on Friday night Michigan had fallen to tenth despite their win against NMU, but when the dust cleared from the weekend Michigan moved up into a tie for fourth(!) despite losing OSU's record and gaining MSU's in their TUC category. Then a butterfly flapped its wings, sending MSU below .500 RPI. Voila:
Bracketology stuff usually has Michigan playing RPI/CC in the first round and getting the winner of Union/UMD in the second if they get there. Stop the season right now. I want to get off.
How did this happen?
Merrimack blew up. The lead people including myself thought was unassailable evaporated in a single weekend as meh Maine (14-10-6 before the weekend) swept. I think we PWR watchers underestimate how quickly teams high up in the RPI can backslide if they get swept. Merrimack has terrible Providence this weekend and can only lose ground—sweeping leaves their RPI basically where it is now.
WCHA teams did too. UMD only got one point out of their weekend with CC, and UNO split with Denver—the exact result Michigan wanted.
CCHA playoffs rooting guide:
- In the first round you want Alaska over MSU, NMU over BGSU, and OSU over LSSU. NMU [M: 2-0 against them] can approach the cutoff with a sweep and OSU [3-1] can get over the hump with one. MSU [2-2] is thousandths away from the cutoff and if they don't lose things could get ugly. OTOH, this might not be so bad. Unless BGSU pulls a massive upset MSU would then play Michigan in the second round. Michigan could put them right back under .500. Even if they didn't the record would then be 4-2, which whatever.
- Second round assuming no upsets: Michigan, obvs, over OSU or LSSU. NMU over Miami, as that would make them a TUC. Ferris-WMU doesn't really matter since it appears the Bulldogs are locked in as a TUC, and neither would ND-Alaska.
- At the Joe it probably won't matter as long as Michigan wins.
The most important other thing: Die, Denver. You die and go to hell. Also, pull hard for UNH against BC this weekend.
Non-Bullets Of Silverware
Wat. If you were one of the dedicated few ripping the NMU radio guy a new one on twitter as you watched the B2E feed you might have wondered what the hell Michigan players were doing after the game, unless you were also one of the many who played NHL 94 incessantly. Michigan Hockey Net digs up a junior team doing the same thing. I'm impressed guys who were about three when '94 came out have even heard of it.
Feed BTW. It probably wasn't worth seven bucks if we're talking about a random midseason series. With the title on the line, though, I shelled out both nights and was relatively impressed. Negatives: the quality is not super high and you aren't getting replays. Positive: the feed was very smooth. I missed maybe a minute of game time total to internet hiccups.
The quality wasn't good enough for me to be able to say much about specific players, however. It was tough for me to figure out who was who most of the time.
One exception. Hunwick bounced back huge on Friday night after a disappointing series against Western. He stole that game. On Saturday he had very little to do, so points to the team defense there.
Highlights. HT to Michigan Hockey Net for digging up highlights from Friday and Saturday. Friday:
That post from MHN has a bunch of other stuff including Andrew Cogliano fighting someone much bigger than him.
“You’re instincts take over on a play like that,” Burlon said after Friday’s game. “(Hunwick) was the goalie on that one, but then, I’ve got to play goalie. You do anything for the team to get the win and that was just one of those plays.”
Yost Built hasn't updated. Frowns.
2/26/2011 – Michigan 70, Minnesota 63 – 18-12, 8-9 Big Ten
Outside of Michigan, if you've heard about Zack Novak it's probably because Blake Griffin posterized him. That's what got him in Sports Illustrated, after all. The article starts off by describing Michigan's strategy—let him shoot—before noting that "the coaches do not cover what to do if he decides to jump over your head." Luke Winn reports that after it happened a Memphis fan yelled "Hey, Novak! Your kid is going to have a picture of that on his wall!" Zack Novak: not Blake Griffin.
Saturday Novak got posterized again, this time by a guy who can do this:
Substitute Novak for the motorcycle and that's basically what happened. It was lethal. I'm shocked it's not on Youtube six different ways. Bacari Alexander heard so much about it he admonished the twitter in the aftermath.
It takes a special kind of player on a special kind of team to be famous for being a vague impediment to someone going ham on the rim. It takes a floppy-haired short kid on an overmatched team, specifically. Every time an actual power forward gets on a media guide cover thanks to Novak it's a reminder that Michigan is a short, young, small, and possibly talent-deficient team just trying to make do until it can get some seniors up in here.
But as Alexander pointed out: scoreboard. At the end of the game it read Michigan LOTS, Minnesota NOT QUITE AS MANY despite the fact that Novak's going to be incidentally part of ten year old Minnesotans' walls next year. There were a lot of reasons for this—Tim Hardaway going NBA Jam in the first five minutes, Darius Morris braving the trees to toss in a variety of circus shots—but just about everything that was going to happen already had and Michigan was still down one on the road with three seconds on the shot clock and ninety on the game clock.
Morris tried to drive and was cut off. He had to chuck it out to Novak; Novak was camped out at the NBA three-point line. If he was closer one of Minnesota's enormous tree people would have deflected the pass. As it was the enormous tree person got a hand in his face as he fired an instant before the shot clock hit zero.
Against Iowa and Wisconsin, Novak literally hadn't hit a shot.
Minnesota came down the floor down two. Novak, who is maybe 6'4", ended up checking Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III (yes that Ralph Sampson). Sampson is 7'1" with long, long arms. He could eat Zack Novak in a single sitting. He'd already hit a variety of mid-range jumpers that Michigan could do nothing about other than watch, and was one-on-one in the block. This is shrug-your-shoulders time. This is the point where you acknowledge the physical limitations brought on by Benzing's test score and Cronin's hip and say "just wait till next year, Big Ten!" as you shake your little tiny baby fist.
Sampson is fighting for position hard enough for the announcer to note it. Minnesota feeds the post. This is shrug-your-shoulders-time.
People say players like Zack Novak do the little things, and they are wrong. I yelped "yes" involuntarily. This hadn't happened for anything else; anything that forces strained noises out of you is probably not a "little thing."
Maybe they say this because it's not the kind of thing that gets you on a poster. That's true, but in the alternate universe where Nick Hornby is on the 50 Sexiest People cover for the 20th straight year and Sufjan Stevens is Lady Gaga, there are posters of Novak leaping in front of Sampson, posters of the Aneurysm of Leadership, posters of Zack Novak bleeding on you and MANBOUNDING you and fronting your six-eight jumping-jack power forward. In them, Novak has an elbow in his back, blood running down his temple, and is plotting how to take a charge.
Tim has you covered. Go North Carolina Central!
The best in annoyance. Eamonn Brennan on Michigan's chances:
Huge road win for Michigan, and an even bigger loss for Minnesota. The Wolverines have been quietly (OK, not quietly, because Michigan fans e-mail me more than any non-BYU fan base in the nation) making a late-season push for at-large consideration, and this win will only boost that case. In fact, the Wolverines are probably, if only barely, in the tournament right now. A home win over Michigan State in the regular-season finale might very well seal it.
Say what you will about Michigan fan but boy do they lacerate people on the internet with questions/responses. Hinton agrees.
The zen of good shots. I missed the first Michigan-Minnesota game because of hockey but recall from the stats that Michigan took an epic number of threes and missed damn near all of them; in the first half they took an epic number of threes (22 to just six twos) and this was frickin' awesome until they got to 35 points, at which point it was frickin' awful. What changed? It didn't look like anything. Minnesota has enormous dudes inside and was giving up wide open three after wide open three, so it made sense to take them. Was that bad? Is an open three a bad shot after you've taken five straight? What if you've missed five straight?
I'm really asking here. I can't recall more than a couple first-half threes that seemed like bad shots in isolation. An open three from a 35% shooter is something you can win a lot of games with, but as they clanged off the rim late in the first half I tried to figure out if my frustration was me being a troglodyte or not. The end result was good—9 of 22, 41%, equivalent to hitting 61% of your twos—so… can you complain?
After all, Michigan put up an excellent 1.19 points per possession. In the second half they were far more interior-oriented and scored… 35 points. There's an argument to be made that any three is less good than a layup/dunk and that a team that can get lots of those is going to be better than a team that just bombs from deep. Also an offense like that is less prone to withering droughts.
So if Michigan was really good it would be a problem, and if they're going to be really good they'll have to cut down on the threes, but they're not so fine, especially against the Brobdingnagian Gophers. I think this is what I think.
Statewatch. The popular sentiment appears to be "beat MSU and don't fall on your face and you're in"—even an previously dismissive Lunardi now has Michigan amongst his last four in. That's quite a shift from before the Minnesota game. So goings-on with the Spartans are important. They just got obliterated by Purdue 67-47:
The offensive execution before the shot wasn't great. The ball screens and movement were enough to create open shots, and on the few occasions MSU did get offensive rebounds (OReb% of 26.3% - low, but not enough to explain a 20 point loss) they could not convert. Seven points off 10 offensive rebounds isn't good. Lastly, it seemed as if the Spartans were a bit tentative in the paint. Dan Dakich made a point a couple times during the telecast that Green and Roe were falling forward on lay-ups, and I think a drive directly at the basket would've at least drawn a foul.
While they should take care of Iowa at home they made the Hawkeyes look like Purdue the last time out. Either way MSU is going to be playing for its tourney life in Crisler on Saturday. It will be the most important, competitive game between the teams in years.
BONUS: The elf who bakes cookies is MSU's third-leading scorer in the last couple games.
Tim Hardaway: five star? Big Ten Geeks asked people to name "ten freshmen better than Tim Hardaway Jr" apropos of nothing on the twitter and then followed that up a comparison between THJ and some of his more hyped peers:
Here’s how he stacks up in terms of offensive rating and possessions consumed in conference play with some other more recognizable freshmen:
Player Offensive Rating Poss% Tim Hardaway Jr. 112.1 24.4 Jared Sullinger 118.2 26.4 Harrison Barnes 103.4 26.3 Terrence Jones 107.4 29.2 Brandon Knight 112.1 24.8 Perry Jones 114.7 22.2 Tobias Harris 103.1 26 Josh Smith 108.8 25.7
It’s not like Hardaway is a tweener, either. At 6-5, he’s got the size to play guard at the next level. We should probably see Hardaway on more mock draft boards, very soon.
Not as good as Jared Sullinger. Everyone else is at least debatable and he's got a clear edge on many. (Caveats about defense apply.)
John Beilein's eagle eye. Hardaway's emergence and Jordan Morgan turning into a way better player than classmate Derrick Nix have provided enough evidence for me to suggest that Beilein's seems to have an eye for players who are overlooked by recruiting sites. I didn't follow the Pittsnogle era at WVU closely enough to have a grasp on the players he was recruiting and didn't get, but various Michigan targets who have outperformed expectations:
- Beilein was hard after Klay Thompson as he tried to fill out his first recruiting class but Thompson decided to go to Washington State(!?!), whereupon he exploded. He's shooting 42% from 3 and has a 106.4 ORtg despite using a third of WSU's possessions.
- That same year he pursued Kyle Kuric heavily but didn't get him. Kuric went somewhere less embarrassing: Louisville. He's currently sporting a 129.8(!) ORtg because he's hitting 46% from three and 60% from two. He has low usage and only plays 57% of available minutes, but dang.
- Beilein went after Vermont transfer Joe Trapani but lost him to BC. As a senior he's got a 104 ORtg while shooting 29% of the time. He shoots 36% from 3.
- Robin Benzing fell one SAT question short of making this edition of Michigan insane. He was the leading scorer in a U20 Euro championship, got time on the actual German national team, and is a guy who keeps popping up on NBA draft radars.
- Hardaway was a meh three star when he committed.
- Smotrycz was a meh three star when he committed before shooting up with a strong AAU season; he's struggled a bit so far but has potential and was no one when he committed to M.
- Novak had his Valpo offer pulled.
- Morgan had no other D-I offers and even his father was surprised he got one from Michigan.
Add in Pittsnogle and Joe Alexander and Gansey, etc., and I think you've got a strong case to trust the coaches when Beilein brings in someone you've never heard of who doesn't have any offers. Not everyone can pan out explosively but Beilein seems to be more hit than miss.
Dang. Random BTN tweet:
Jordan Morgan has averaged 15.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg over his last five games. He's shooting 71.4 pct during this span.
Recap from UMHoops. Also AnnArbor.com. Big Ten tourney scenarios from AC1997. Zach Travis of MNB on the other Zack. Big House Blog on Novak. Maize n Blue Nation on Novak. Mets Maize on… Novak. Little things… not so much.
In Soviet Russia, Novak discusses topic of dunk:
“I didn’t even really see it. I was turned around a little bit,” Novak said. “So I was under the basket and I saw him dunk it. I didn’t know it was that bad.
“But (my teammates) told me it was pretty bad. He’s just, he’s a great player.”
Rothstein also recaps Michigan's league situation.
And finally, here's this:
2/23/2010 – Michigan 52, Wisconsin 53 – 17-12, 7-9 Big Ten
For a while, the house we lived in—1331 Geddes, AKA "the Unlucky Palindrome," the purple-doored white house almost but not quite right next to the CCRB—had a fairly sizeable hole in the wall. Raffi's hip put it there. I put Raffi's hip there with a sort of flying tackle.
After this we were both on the ground. This was Raffi's territory. He has cerebral palsy, which means he can't walk that well or supinate his hands—he got around with the aid of crutches. As a result his arms were thick, meaty bludgeons. Since I'd just delivered a wall-shattering flying tackle to a guy who can't walk very well he used them to hit me, hard. It hurt.
This was "man fun." It was a semi-regular occurrence when someone had been studying too long or just felt like delivering a flying tackle. You would pick an available person and hurt them, and they would hurt you, and everyone would laugh.
Watching a freshman shooting 28% from three missing his buzzer-beater badly enough to make it was like absorbing one of Raffi's flat, heavy blows. I'd never witnessed something like that in person, and… yeah. Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But I'm not upset in the aftermath despite this being objectively worse than the Evan Turner half-court dagger last year. Last year's team was under .500, a miserable disappointment after being ranked #15 before the season. Even Michigan fans who thought that was a bit much didn't expect the massive regression we got. That shot just meant Michigan didn't get their very narrow chance at winning two more games and the automatic bid that went with it. Losing was the merciful end, but it stood as a symbol for everything that went wrong. It was somewhere between irritating and infuriating.
Josh Gasser punting it in off the backboard—BACKBOARDS DIE—is probably going to cost Michigan an at-large, and it comes after a season of near-misses. I already wrote the bit about that scoring chance you get with five minutes left in the hockey game. It turns out that if Michigan is watching the NCAA Tournament selection show with a jaundiced eye they'll be thinking about threes clanging off rims in Champaign and a one-armed freshman shooting a three pointer so wildly errant it hit a courtside photographer before going in. And not being able to finish the deal against Ohio State earlier. And needing one measly point to avoid overtime against Kansas.
By all rights we should be waking up today like most Sundays the past three falls: hungover, pissed off, and mopey. It doesn't seem like we are, collectively—aside from one nutball on WTKA this morning the mood was downright chipper for the first time since the Notre Dame game.
It's obvious why. Just being in a position to be hurt is good after what happened last year and what the expectations were for this one. I admit that as I edited Tim's season preview I cocked an eyebrow at Tim's sunny conclusion:
The one thing they can promise, though, is that they'll be fun to watch. Maybe not in every individual game, but seeing these young players grow over the course of the season should be an entertaining - if often frustrating - experience all its own.
31 games later that may be the most accurate season prediction ever purveyed in this space*.
It sucks that a blind Chinese six-year-old threw a ball through the center of the earth that just happened to have enough momentum to pop up through the underside of the basket and fall back through, but Michigan has the most improved player in the conference, the best freshman who will be around next year, no seniors, the 336th most-experienced team in the country, and two good guards on the way to fill out the roster. According to Kenpom this is already the best team Beilein's had at Michigan—they are 48th while the tourney team was 50th. There has been no point in the post-sanctions history of Michigan basketball where optimism is as warranted.
In the light of morning not even a tiny meteor launched from Tralfamadore billions of years ago falling through the Crisler arena roof and subsequently the net can take away the feeling that sometimes it's good to hurt because at least you know you're alive. Michigan basketball is alive.
*[Although I did say football would go 7-5 this year. Third time's a charm.]
Non-bullets of glassy destruction
Novak no shoot. Beilein apparently said that he doesn't believe playing Zack Novak at the 4 is affecting his shooting but it's hard to see the correlation as something other than causation. I don't think Michigan has a choice—in the Iowa and Wisconsin games when Smotrycz was put on Basabe/Leuer it led it instant easy baskets and a quick switch. I think the reason Michigan's mostly playing Smotrycz at the five is because he gets annihilated by guys with ball skills.
Getting Smotrycz to improve and getting Christian to the point where he can do at least one thing on offense—corner threes maybe—are key points for next season. I'm not sure how much more Michigan is going to get out of Morgan and Morris and we have an idea of what Hardaway will become. The shooting guard will be a white guy who shoots threes and occasionally Carlton Brundidge. The four is the biggest issue.
Beilein's bedroom. Has a poster of Jon Leuer where other people put Megan Fox. Jesus. He has a 119 ORtg and he's taking nearly a third of Wisconsin's shots! Random mock draft has him going in the second round to the Pistons, which okay. I'm all over that. I can't imagine him being not useful.
Also, Beilein has to be looking at Keaton Nankivil and thinking "where can I get a 6'8" to shoot 48% from three?" Either that or "was that guy in The Usual Suspects?"
Late game strategy. I was fine with it; the problem came on the last foul when Michigan could only burn a second or two off the clock. If they get a bit more Wisconsin is trying to shoot with three seconds. As it was, Michigan really needed to not have three guys in the paint by the time the pass was made. That ball was going up.
Senior day? What are they going to do for it? Are they going to bother with it?
2/18/2011 – Michigan 6, Western Michigan 3 – 20-9-4, 17-7-1 CCHA
2/21/2011 – Michigan 5, Western Michigan 4 (OT) – 21-9-4, 18-7-1 CCHA
Sometimes being at a hockey game is an exercise in wishing you were watching the thing on TV where the camera angle is consistent and the replays are repeated ad nauseum. This is especially true at Yost, where events just happen and evaporate without the benefit of video replay.
An example: at the end of the first period the puck was behind the net and suddenly the ref was feverishly pointing at the puck in the net without the thing seemingly ever reaching a spot where that was physically possible. The ref went to check it out. A few moments later the part of Yost directly behind the penalty boxes stood up and craned their collective neck to see the review as I plotted to relocate there next year, and a few moments after that he waved the thing off.
Last year I would have had to trudge through the deep, useless recesses of the USCHO board to find out what happened. Five years ago a Saturday game against Western probably wasn't televised at all and no one would really ever know. Since it's 2011 I just pulled out my phone, tweeted at the Daily's hockey beat writer*, and found out within ten minutes that the puck had indeed gone into the net from behind the goal.
I didn't see it, though, and that's kind of the point of being a spectator.
Sometimes hockey collapses itself into a universe just for you. You have to be sitting along the sideline between the blue lines for this to happen. If you are, at certain points you can draw a perfectly straight line from you to the guy shooting the puck to the goal.
An example: when Michigan came back against Denver in the NCAA tournament I sat right behind the Michigan bench and watched Eric Werner plunge into the slot to flick a puck over Wade Dubielewicz** to tie the game. I saw it the whole way and my mind blew up.
I shelled out for old fogey seats this year so when Lee Moffie entered the zone I saw Hagelin behind him and thought Moffie should drop it, and he did, and there were two seconds left so there's only one thing for Hagelin to do, and as he let the shot go and I drew a straight line from me to him to the net as the puck slid past the defenseman clean and rose. I could see where it was heading, see the goalie throw his glove at it but not get there in time, see the puck ricochet the right way as the great clank filled the building. It was one of those moments where the angel comes down from heaven and says "you there—God has selected you to have the deep-seated, socially awkward fandom of the concealed lunatic." It was pure.
And while I've been craving video boards at Yost for years there's something beautiful about not having the thing you just experienced altered by someone else's perspective. Since the Werner goal isn't on youtube no one can tell me he wasn't wielding a scimitar, wearing an eyepatch, and screaming "hhhhhyarrrrr" as he swashbuckled towards the net. I'm pretty sure the unicorn he was riding was named Steve.
Those days are over—see the youtube clip above—but thanks to Carl Hagelin Yost got one last opportunity to walk out of the building buzzing about the thing that just happened in your head, and only your head.
*[Michael Florek was beaten to the punch by the Hoover Street Rag.]
**[Google's spellchecking was heroic here: I typed "wade dublevicz."]
mfan_in_ohio has again broken down the pairwise so I'll just point you to his analysis. Michigan flew up to sixth after the sweep, but it is a tenuous, tenuous sixth. Here's why:
That's Ohio State barely nosing above .500 in RPI after taking a win and a tie from LSSU. Michigan's 3-1 record against the Buckeyes thus counts in the TUC category. This tiny difference in the season of a single opponent swings comparisons against Boston College and UNO. If OSU had split over the weekend Michigan would be eighth and we'd be wondering what a man has to do to get some respect around here.
As it is, OSU's nose getting over the line combined with a couple of wins over a WMU team that did well in its nonconference schedule gets you halfway to a one seed in one weekend. That and a lot of help elsewhere—Dartmouth, RPI, UMD, UNO, and Denver all lost over the weekend. Denver lost to Michigan Tech(!), which is huge because that's a common opponent and a terrible team.
While this is almost Michigan's ceiling, the stumbles of Denver and UMD have opened the door to the last one seed. Michigan easily beats Denver in COP now and is within striking distance in both TUC and RPI—outperforming them by a game down the stretch will do it. UMD, meanwhile, is close enough in RPI to drop if they lose and the six remaining regular season games between the two teams are all common opponents—NMU for Michigan, CC and UNO for UMD. If they take those two comparisons and Ohio State and Ferris can walk the tripwire so that both of them finish the season under consideration, they can slide up to fourth. This will take some luck but if Michigan sweeps Northern and wins the CCHA playoffs I think they'll be 50-50 for the one-seed.
- OSU plays Ferris this weekend and can remain in the TUC zone by splitting. However, sweeping will actually put Ferris about where OSU is now, leaving them vulnerable to dropping out in the CCHA playoffs. You probably want a split here but root for OSU on Friday because they're more vulnerable. You want both of these teams to do well in the playoffs.
- You hate Denver and Minnesota-Duluth with the burning fiery passion of a thousand suns.
- Also Boston College and UNO.
Everything else is up to Michigan.
It's Michigan and Notre Dame with ND maintaining a one-point lead. They have a home-and-home with this Western team; Michigan goes to Northern. Agonizingly, neither game in Marquette is televised. Michigan will win the tiebreaker if the teams end up even in points.
Non-bullets of !!!
Kind of mad, kind of awesome. Shawn Hunwick was not so good this weekend. On Friday it didn't result in much damage because the team had already gotten the other guy's goalie pulled but on Saturday he was off on both of the breakaways. They were breakaways so it's hard to be too mad but he gave up a weak five hole goal on the first and was way too deep in his net on the other. On the other hand, this is what he tweeted immediately afterwards:
Thank you Carl Hagelin for saving my ass. Great senior class. We had a phenomenal four years.
It wasn't that bad. We still love you and the fact that on shots from the point you end up halfway to the blue line.
Also, Hunwick made three clutch, clutch stops in the third period Saturday.
Need moar Swede. There needs to be another Swedish guy on the team ASAP. We've got the flag, we're very enthusiastic about the word "Bork"—let's make this happen.
Muppets. I totally should have muppetsed. Sorry. I had some people over afterwards and it slipped my mind.
With an assist to Lee Moffie. Moffie's fought for playing time most of the year despite having quite a knack for scoring because he's not that great defensively. Late in the third period as Michigan was trying to tie, however, he was ridiculously good. He's at his best when it's desperate and he can pinch and use his skill and wheel around the zone.
Other defensemen. It was a weekend full of defenseman thoughts:
- Greg Pateryn had a goal and three first assists on Friday. He essentially beat WMU by himself. As a bonus he would have had a fourth assist if you could assist on your own goals—he made an excellent play to control the puck and make a cross-ice pass in to the zone to set up the scoring chance. He still gets too aggressive at the blue line.
- Jon Merrill was really really good Friday—my friend just kept saying "he's really really good"—and then had probably his worst game as a Wolverine Saturday. It wasn't just the breakaway; he probably had more turnovers Saturday than in any two games he'd played this year.
- Mac Bennett is now leading the rush like 25% of the time there is one when he's on the ice.
What does he have to do? Lindsay Sparks was fast out there and looked as dangerous as he usually does. He hasn't put up much in the way of points but I'm continually surprised he can't get in the lineup regularly.
Exploding Lynch. Two on Friday, then two very fancy moves to get to his forehand Saturday. After the first I thought "that's the most dangerous thing he's done as a Wolverine" even though the shot was stopped; he did the same thing a period later and scored. Let's throw everyone down on the fourth line.
BONUS. Googling for Denver goals did turn this one up:
I'm hoping Hagelin channels Ortmeyer in his final games at Michigan.
As the crowd honored the seniors after the game, the Swedish flag that has flown at Yost for three seasons was tossed over the glass to Hagelin. The students had passed it around throughout the game, autographing it and writing thank yous and words of encouragement to our Super Swede.
I wondered what all the stuff on it was. Also: this is a bonus from having Senior Night on a weekend where the students aren't on break.
On what Berenson said to Carl when he gave him a hug after the game… Well, I just told him “Aren’t you glad you came to Michigan? And aren’t we glad that you came?” And good for him. He set a standard here. He’s been a terrific kid, student, player, teammate—you know, just a terrific kid. It’s the first Swedish player we’ve had and we’ll always remember him.
2013 commit JT Compher will join the NTDP, which should lock him up for college—it also suggests he's a high-end guy.
2/16/2011 – Michigan 52, Illinois 54 – 16-11, 6-8 Big Ten
Bear with me: if Michigan's basketball season was a hockey game, last night's basketball game was a really good scoring chance blown when you're down one with five minutes left. At that point you write the game off, because that was it. Objectively, your chance of winning hasn't changed much, if at all, but it feels like a door just closed.
Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes aren't much worse than they were 24 hours ago. Since Kenpom loves Illinois and Michigan outperformed expectations, its season prediction hardly moved. The evaporation of Michigan's 16% chance of winning in Champaign was made up for by significant positive moves in Michigan's four remaining games. But if Michigan's watching the NCAA selection show with a jaundiced eye, thinking about what could of been, they'll be thinking about ball after ball clanging off rims in Assembly Hall.
God, did anyone else scream horrible profanity at the world in general at that point in the second half when Zack Novak set up for yet another wide open three pointer that bashed the front of the rim? It's one thing if Michigan's firing awkward, contested threes deep in the shot clock and another when open look after open look isn't even close to going down. What's Stu Douglass—before yesterday a 40% three point shooter—supposed to do when he's standing still with the ball in his hand and no Illinois player within three feet? Shoot. He shoots, and this goes horribly, and Michigan still almost pulls off a statement win* and we're left to wonder what would have happened if they had just been miserable from three instead of abominable.
And then there's this: 4-28. That's what Michigan shot against Kansas in a game that went to overtime. Sometimes basketball makes you want to punch a wall even when you're in the bonus on the road with 14 minutes left in the half.
In the long view Michigan exceeded expectations again, if slightly, and has managed to stay in games even when threes aren't available or falling. Hope for next year increments slightly again. Right now, argh.
*[Statement is "hey, seriously guys we're on the bubble, seriously." That qualifies for the 335th-most experienced team in D-I]
Non-bullets that do not go in at all ever
Bruce Weber: not so much. That was a terribly coached basketball team that let Michigan hang around despite their inability to throw the ball in Tim Doyle's bad nickname repository by making inane turnovers and taking terrible shots. I'd be pretty upset if I was an Illinois fan. They are huge, veteran, talented, and headed for a second-round matchup with a one-seed.
Tim Doyle: not entirely horrible. I still cringe at "The Butterfly" and believe we should start calling Doyle "The Argyle Sock" in retaliation, but after listening to Stephen Bardo fire out two hours of inane cliches I appreciate Doyle a bit more. Anyone wondering what the hell Michigan could do to stop Tisdale from catching the ball two inches from the basket got some great analysis when Doyle pointed out that Zack Novak was way too far from the guy throwing the entry pass—far enough away that the guy could chuck a chest pass.
Doyle needs to realize his bid to nickname Michigan's point guard has failed and start using an outrageous Russian accent when he makes his Rounders references, but I'm slowly warming to him.
The rack: terrifying. Illinois's length started bothering Michigan immensely towards the end of the first half. After getting a couple shots blocked and seeing a couple others altered beyond recognition, Michigan players were extremely hesitant to take driving lanes and started settling for meh midrange stuff. Morgan was the lone exception, which was good—he was productive in the second half—and bad—a couple of the shots he put up were poor decisions early in the shot clock. Still mostly good.
This tendency had its worst expression on the back-to-back possessions late where Douglass and Morris both took step-back jumpers from the women's three point line. Those were bad shots for a lot of reasons, and it's hard to imagine either of them getting launched against, say, Penn State.
Final shot. Saw some e-complaints about Smotrycz not driving to the hole on Michigan's final possession but don't understand them. Smotrycz may not have been lighting it up from three but he also got blocked when he tried to go to the hole that one time and is not shooting a great percentage from inside the arc. Help defense would have arrived, and time's running down. You get an open three to win and you're a 38% shooter I think you should take it.
Bit before the final shot. The look on Beilein's face as he called timeout after Michigan had run 17 seconds off the clock when a two-for-one opportunity was staring them in the face was not exasperated enough, but for it to be exasperated enough he would have had to break the laws of physics. File under "young team" unless it happens again.
Seriously, make a shot. I have nothing useful to add. Just argh.
Mets Maize. Best bit:
Morris and Hardaway Jr. leadership dynamic. At this point, it's pretty clear they're the leaders of the team but it was interesting to watch them communicate between whistles. At one point, Morris yelled at Hardaway Jr. to "chill out". Unfortunately, they just never got on the same page: Morris with at least a half dozen forced penetrations without a single pass in the half court set, Hardaway Jr. hesitant to pull the trigger, pump fakes and generically drives and kicks. Early in the 2nd half, there was an awkward, back-and-forth turnover-fest by both teams that resulted in Tim Hardaway Jr. trying to push the ball, getting it stolen and an Illini cherry-pickin' jam on the other end.
As UMHoops pointed out on the twitters, Illinois has the best eFG% defense in the league for a reason—and Michigan let it get to them.
Dylan also points out that this was Michigan's best defensive game in a while:
Lost in the offensive struggles is the fact that this was Michigan’s best defensive game in Big Ten play. Michigan held Illinois to .90 points per possession and more impressively just .73 per trip in the second half. Michigan was abused by the high-low in the first half but made the right adjustments to negate Illinois’ size advantage in the second half. Illinois posted an eFG% of 48% – 56% on twos & 22% on threes – and only attempted 9 free throws on the game. Most importantly, Michigan did a great job on the defensive glass, grabbing 76% of Illinois’ missed shots.
A chunk of that was due to Illinois's troubles from three, but those rebounding numbers are impressive against a huge team. Michigan's moved up to 41st in defensive rebounding. (The one major misstep from Doyle and the PBP guy last night was repeatedly claiming Michigan was not a good rebounding team. They're well above average defensively; they get zero offensive rebounds but the overall gap is small. They're about average.)
Certainly Michigan is a game to worry about on paper. But the reality is that they're sloppy on offense, they take too many quick shots, they don't value the ball and they play multiple defenses, none particularly well.
Michigan is 19th nationally in turnover margin, 321st in pace, still 19th nationally in turnover margin, and plays 95% man with the occasional 1-3-1 possession. That's amazing.