Michigan lacrosse starts the season tomorrow night in Cleveland and our boys come into 2017 with a lot to prove. The Wolverines badly need to reverse the trajectory of program that is headed in the wrong direction. After going 5-11 in 2014 and 5-8 in 2015, the boys took a step back last year and finished 3-10, leaving many people to question whether they belong.
Michigan’s schedule features five teams ranked in the Maverik pre-season poll (ND, Hopkins, Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers) but the out-of-conference schedule is a veritable tray of cupcakes. The OOC slate features six teams (Lafayette, Detroit, Bellarmine, Mercer, Furman and UMBC) who won six games or fewer in 2016 and one new program (Cleveland State). ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich noted this in a season preview and predicted that Michigan could “sport a gaudy record”. If Michigan is for real they should enter conference play 7-2. Judging from last year, however, that’s a tall order.
For a detailed look at the roster check out this preview (it also features a glimpse of the new Nike unis which look pretty sweet).
Here’s a quick breakdown of every game on the schedule. I borrowed the “Desperate Need to Win Level” and “Win/loss will cause me to…” bits from Brian’s previews. Those numbers are based on an unscientific combination of the quality of the opponent and my assessment of whether Michigan should win or not. I’ll try to post each preview on the game day threads as well.
Game 1: @ Cleveland State: Saturday, February 4, 7 PM.
The Super Bowl still hasn’t been played and pitchers and catchers don’t report for another two weeks and yet Michigan is playing its first game this Saturday. At night. In Cleveland. In February. I’m excited it’s here already but damn they have to do something about the scheduling. Cleveland State is a new program and this is the Vikings’ inaugural contest so Michigan should take care of business. I don’t know anything about these Cleveland State characters but you gotta think that Michigan should be able to handle them and come away with a nice warm-up W. I like the idea they’re on the schedule though- I would love to see Michigan start a tradition in which they always play a new program in their first year.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 10
Win will cause me to: Breathe a sigh of relief that they beat someone they're supposed to.
Loss will cause me to...actually call for JP to be fired.
Game 2: vs. Lafayette, Saturday, February 11, Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, 4 PM.
Lafayette was straight up bad last year, going 3-11 with their only wins coming against lowly Wagner, and new programs Monmouth and NJIT. The Leopards were not particularly competitive in any of their losses either. It’s Michigan's home opener and Lafayette's season opener so our boys will have a game under their belt which should give them an edge. Oosterbaan Effect could also play a factor. Advantage: Michigan.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 8
Win will cause me to: Say “OK, good.”
Lose will cause to: Say “Damn it.”
Game 3: vs. Detroit, Wednesday February 15, @ Pontiac, Michigan, 7 PM
Last year’s game against Detroit was canceled due to heinous weather conditions and it was scheduled to be played inside. For a while there, Detroit looked like a program on the up-and-up. In 2013, the Titans somehow blundered their way to an NCAA tournament berth but then proceeded to put the fear of God into #1 Notre Dame who barely escaped with a victory. The next few years weren’t as fortuitous for Detroit, however and they couldn’t replicate that success. They won only two games in 2016. These teams played a tight one in 2014 but Michigan waxed them in 2015. Detroit will force a lot of turnovers.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 9
Win will cause me to: tell the good news to my girlfriend who doesn’t care.
Lose will cause me to: complain to my girlfriend who doesn’t care.
Game 4: @ Bellarmine, Saturday February 18, 6 PM
Bellarmine (which is in Kentucky- I had to look it up) went 6-9 last year but suffered close losses to tournament teams Marquette and Air Force and a good Richmond team. Michigan didn’t play them last year but our boys beat the Knights in 2014 and 2015. I would say that Bellarmine is probably more talented than Michigan and should have the edge at home. But, I really have no idea what to expect - this one will be a coin toss.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 6.5(?)
Win will cause me to: say “OK, heads”
Loss will cause me to: say “Ok, tails”
Game 5: @ Notre Dame, Sunday February 26, 2 PM
It would be nice to beat the tar out of ND because that’s the favorite pastime of any Michigan Wolverine. But - nah they’re not gonna win this one.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 6 (higher than it should be because its ND and Michigan needs a W over a premiere program, would love that to be against the Irish)
Win will cause me to: eat my hat
Loss will cause me to: shrug.
Game 6: @ Mercer, Thursday March 2, 7 PM
Mercer is another young program but they’ve fared OK in recent years going 7-7 in 2014 and 5-8 the last two seasons. This game is the first stop on Michigan’s spring break trip and looks like another toss-up. Mercer seems to be in the boat Michigan was in last year. Will they break out like Marquette or Richmond? Or will they continue to struggle? If I recall correctly, Mercer was Michigan’s first program win at the Division 1 level back in the day. They are not a formidable opponent and these are the kinds of games you want Michigan to win in a drama-free fashion.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 7
Win will cause me to: wonder what type of team Michigan is
Loss will cause me to: wonder what type of team Michigan is
Game 7: @ Furman, Saturday March 4, 1 PM
As in most years, the spring break trip represents the focal point of the season. These games can make or break the season. Furman, 2-11 in 2016, represents another winnable game for Michigan. Coming away 2-0 in the spring break games would be huge. The Paladins are coached by legendary former Navy head coach Richie Meade, so they got that going for them.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 9
Win will cause me to: start to believe
Loss will cause me to: continue to doubt
Game 8: vs. Penn, Saturday March 11, 1 PM, Big House
I was at this game last year at Franklin Field and came away incredibly frustrated after Michigan fell 12-10. Michigan outplayed the Quakers but found themselves playing catch-up most of the game due to lots of mistakes and missed opportunities among them surrendering multiple goals while MAN-UP. Penn had some young talent last year but underperformed. Kessenich sees big things for them in 2017 and has them ranked 10th(!) in his preseason poll. The Fightin’ Trumps will have the edge in this game.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 6 (likely a loss but it would be nice to steal a win from a good team they could’ve beaten last year)
Win will cause me to: try to keep my excitement and expectations in check
Loss will cause me to: gripe about how they should’ve won
Game 9: vs UMBC Saturday March 25, 1 PM, Big House
After the Penn game, Michigan’s schedule has a weird two week gap before they play UMBC. It should give them plenty of time to rest, recover and ready themselves for a beatable opponent. The Terriers have made the NCAA tournament a number of times over the years and they’ve even knocked on the door of the Final 4 but the program has fallen on hard times of late. They went 4-10 in 2016 and are breaking in a new coach.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 9 (given the lead-up time to prepare for such a low-caliber opponent, Michigan better come correct in this game)
Win will cause me to: be glad they won
Loss will cause me to: renew those calls for a new coach
Game 10: @ Maryland, Saturday April 1, 2 PM ***on ESPNU***
Maryland should’ve won the national championship last year but blew it in very Maryland fashion. Even though the Terps were one of the best teams in the country in 2016, Michigan took them to the brink in a snowy dogfight in Michigan Stadium. They’ll be nasty again this year. John Tillman is one of the best coaches in the country and it’s unlikely Michigan will get by the Terps’ perennially stout D and goalkeeping. Maryland boasts preseason All-Americans at pretty much every position including a one-man killing machine named Matt Rambo who scored 43 goals last year.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 3
Win will cause me to: drink beers in celebration
Loss will cause me to: go about my business as usual
Game 11: vs Rutgers, Saturday April 8, 1 PM, Big House
Rutgers got straight up screwed by the tournament committee last year. After a 5-10 campaign in 2015 (including a loss to M), Rutgers executed a complete turnaround in 2016 and racked up 11 wins including two against Hopkins (who did make the tournament). The Scarlet Knights won’t sneak up on anybody this year though - they’re ranked #19 to start the season and return some great offensive players. Michigan will likely be outmatched in this one.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 5
Win will cause me to: think Michigan can win the Big Ten?
Loss will cause me to: be bummed
Game 12: vs. Ohio State, Saturday April 15, 10:30 AM, ***Big House before Spring Football Game - go early!!! Also airing on Big Ten Network!!!***
F*** Ohio State. That’s it.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 11 (it’s Ohio State)
Win will cause me to: celebrate and boo random Buckeyes on the street
Loss will cause me to: push my anger down deeper.
Game 13: @ Johns Hopkins, Saturday April 22, 1 PM ***on ESPNU***
Hopkins, sort of the snobby lacrosse step-father of the Big Ten, won the league in 2015 but got bounced by Rutgers in the first round of the conference tourney last year. They finished 8-6 and got immediately run off the field by Brown in the NCAAs. While the Jays’ dominant spot in the lacrosse world may be slipping they are still a powerhouse (ranked #9, plenty of pre-season AAs). Michigan won’t beat them. Also - Hopkins is Hopkins so they have a roster full of insufferable dudes with terrible first names like Brock and Brinton and Chanler. They also have Gerald Logan who made his way to Baltimore via a grad transfer.
Desperate Need to Win Level: 3
Win will cause me to: talk shit to the Hopkins guy in my office
Loss will cause me to: long for the day that Michigan will be able to beat teams like Hopkins
Game 14: vs. Penn State, Sunday April 30, 1PM, Big House
So if the season goes well and by that I mean Michigan gets through the OOC 7-2 or 6-3 (which is possible) and poaches games from Ohio State and/or Rutgers (also possible), this could be a crucial game. But that’s a lot to ask from a squad that went 3-10 last year. The Nittany Lions disappointed last seaon but start 2017 ranked #14 in the country and are helmed by one of the best young minds in the game in Jeff Tambroni. Michigan has wrapped up the season against Penn State the last two years but has yet to beat them. Here’s to hoping the last game of 2017 will be a meaningful one.
Desperate Need to Win Level: Possibly 0. Possibly 1 million.
Win will cause me to: toast to finishing 2017 on a high note
Loss will cause me to: be bummed that the season is over and pine for 2018.
So in conclusion: I don’t know what to think. They couldn’t be much worse than last year but who knows if and how much they’ve improved. The worst case, 0-14, is a slim possibility but I doubt they’ll be that bad. Best case scenario- 9-5 with two conference wins. The reality will be somewhere between those two extremes but who knows what will happen. Six or seven wins would be a big step in the right direction for this program. Go Blue!