In With A Chance

In With A Chance

Submitted by Brian on January 22nd, 2018 at 11:57 AM

1/19/2018 – Michigan 4, Penn State 0, 11-10-2, 6-7-2 Big Ten
1/20/2018 – Michigan 3, Penn State 2, 12-10-2, 7-7-2 Big Ten

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incoming [James Coller]

Here's a weird graph.

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That's Michigan hockey's Pairwise ranking. For those who may have forgotten this weird thing about college hockey, the Pairwise is a computer ranking that selects and seeds the NCAA hockey tournament. Yeah, man, the robots took over like 20 years ago and hockey is fine with it.

This graph shows Michigan leaping from the mid-20s in that ranking to 15th last weekend. There are 16 teams in the tournament and one conference that will definitely occupy a spot with an otherwise-out auto-bid team. So... yeah. They'd be in if they got lucky with conference tournaments.

Hockey's made some tweaks that make some games more valuable than others but not even I, a person who knows what the Pairwise is and can give you its life history, believed that an 8-10-2 Michigan team could haul its ass from "not even on the bubble" to "maybe in the tournament" with one weekend sweep against Minnesota. Nor did I expect a sweep against another bubble team, Penn State, to do nothing further. I guess Michigan consolidated its gains?

Anyway, this caught me off guard. I hadn't even looked at the Pairwise all year since there seemed to be no reason to. I'd been interpreting the hockey team in front of me as a try-hard, much-improved outfit that had too far to go in one season. This weekend I saw... basically that, but now with a tourney bid at stake. Against the rootinest, tootinest, shootinest team in all the land. Penn State.

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[Bill Rapai]

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If there were seven seals that had to open before last year's Michigan Hockey Apocalypse, #2 or #3 was A Penn State Program The Same Age As My Son, Who Regularly Has To Be Told Not To Bite People, Gives Michigan The Business. Year 1 PSU went 3-2 against Michigan despite winning just five other games all season and knocked Michigan out of the tourney with a two OT win in the conference tourney. Year 2 PSU went 3-1.

Adding insult to injury, these Penn State teams played like Red Berenson teams, zipping up and down the ice pell-mell while trying to score goals with skill, if skill would do, or sheer erosion if it wouldn't. Penn State was (and is) prone to exploding into bits because they don't quite have the talent to do what they want to do, but from the drop they seemed to be a version of Michigan on the rise instead of the decline.

Penn State's still Penn State. At certain points their sheer aggression overwhelms. Michigan got out of the gate slow on Friday and shots were 9-3 PSU despite a Michigan power play ten minutes in. One particular shift on Saturday saw the Slaker line so gassed they couldn't even ice the puck; they ate two solid minutes of desperate defensive zone time. Lavigne got the biggest cheer of the night for swallowing a puck directly in his chest to end this shift.

That shift was the second half of the Saturday game writ large. Michigan staked itself to a 2-0 lead and seemed to have the much better chances through 30 minutes even if a bunch of point shots had PSU ahead in shots on goal. Dave had Michigan with an advantage on shots in the "house" through 20, and then the roof caved in.

The rest of the game was spent with Penn State even more amped up than they usually are. The last ten minutes of the second period was nonstop PSU attacking, with the defensemen pinching on almost literally everything. Whenever Michigan broke PSU's line they had a shot at an odd-man rush that they couldn't quite put together. (A major reason why: Yost's ice still sucks even after they redid the plant.) Michigan struggled to cope in the third, with PSU launching 31 shot attempts, almost half of them from the house.

Lavigne stood tall; puck luck bit PSU. And then Penn State pulled the goalie with three minutes left. That was finally it. PSU scored twice and made the final minute a sphincter test. They lost because Michigan did pay off on one of the opportunities PSU's hyper-aggression provided, when Dakota Raabe scored the first goal of his career on a breakaway.

If that didn't feel too different than previous PSU games, the Friday game did. Michigan outshot and significantly outchanced PSU after the rough start; that 4-0 win probably should have been 4-2 or 4-1, but it was not that scramble to hold on Saturday.

That's the team: working for it. Getting there. Still liable to get clonked. But in it. For the duration.

DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK, CALL IT THE PAIRWISE STATUS

Hey, pairwise is relevant again! Hooray. I used to have to eyeball this stuff but there is now an excellent site called College Hockey Ranked that plays out the various scenarios over and over again and spits out graphs. Here's Michigan's graph:

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To (probably) be in position for an at-large when conference tourney play starts Michigan needs to go 6-4 down the stretch. That would be about a 75% shot at the #13 spot, which is safe in all but the most apocalyptic bid-stealing scenarios. At 6-4 they would probably have to win their first round series to feel good about securing the bid. 7-3 would be pretty secure. 8-2 and they'd be close to 100% safe, but that's a tall, tall order.

Because college hockey's RPI gives you bonuses for beating highly-ranked teams and weights a road W 50% more than a home win, the most important games left by far are this weekend's series at OSU (#6 PWR) and the ND (#1 PWR) home and home, especially the road half of it. Even a split this weekend is pretty good.

Since the Pairwise is now identical to RPI unless head to head intervenes, with limited exceptions anything that's good for Michigan's RPI is good for their pairwise. The main thing to root for is for Michigan's opponents in the top 20 to do well unless there's a direct conflict.

This means you're in favor of Minnesota winning games—Michigan has already banked 3 Ws against them. Penn State is a little trickier because they still manage to win their comparison with Michigan because their 3-1 H2H deficit is made up for by their better RPI and Common Opponents, and then RPI breaks the tie. Your pecking order in conference:

  1. Minnesota—Gophers literally cannot win a comparison with M so win away, Goldy. This may change if M and Minnesota are specifically competing for a last at large spot late. For now, go Gophers.
  2. OSU/ND—both of these teams are big quality win bonuses waiting to happen if Michigan can pull games off of them in their upcoming series, and are so far ahead of Michigan that there's no way Michigan could win a comparison with them.
  3. MSU—irrelevant.
  4. PSU—Quality win bonus, on the one hand, bubble team on the other. Michigan can win or lose this comparison based on PSU does, and their QWB isn't huge.
  5. Wisconsin. Currently safely out but plays their way on to the bubble with 5 wins in their last 8.

Nonconference teams you hate because they're on the bubble are Providence, UNO, Northeastern, Harvard, BGSU, Northern Michigan, Miami, and BC, but this far out it's about 90% Michigan and 10% how others play. This is especially true because the league has four bubble teams (M, Minnesota, PSU, and Wisconsin). If they finish third in the league they're probably good.

Nads!

Nads!

Submitted by Brian on January 19th, 2018 at 11:20 AM

1/18/2018 – Michigan 52, Nebraska 72 – 16-5, 5-3 Big Ten

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obligatory

A proper kick in the nads, that was. The only good thing about it was I can deploy "nads" and reminisce about those middle school days that... were completely horrible, as all middle school days are. Nevermind. But "nads" is a zesty word all the same. Nads. Nads. Aching nads. And so forth and so on.

Nebraska switched everything and it went better for them than it did for Purdue last week. Wagner was unable to get a shot up despite being checked by Punky Brewster for large sections of the game, and the pull-up in-your-face threes that Michigan used to close their second half gap against the Boilers never materialized. Instead, many many turnovers as Michigan tried to drive. The Daily:

“They switched everything. On every screen,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Roby allows them to do that. I don’t know if it would be successful with the big guys, but that’s a thing we’re going to see again from many teams. And we saw it actually all at the end of last year, and we’ve got to continue to develop what we do in that situation.”

Last season, the play had a more obvious solution. The Wolverines had Derrick Walton Jr., who could simply blow by a bigger defender, often making them look silly along the way. This year’s team has yet to find somebody who can make those plays consistently.

That latter point was driven home when Michigan, desperate for anything resembling offense, went with a MAAR-Poole backcourt for much of the second half. Zavier Simpson's offensive renaissance came to a screeching halt—one three pointer after an offensive rebound scramble and nothing else. Last year, the power mushroom version of Derrick Walton would have eviscerated that. This year, not so much.

The weaknesses Michigan had seemingly developed their way out of clawed their way back to the surface, except even the weaker version of this team from earlier in the year didn't gift wrap ten first-half points with open court turnovers. Nobody's transition defense is good in a two-on-one situation. Add it all up and it's a tender morning in Nadslandia. The land of nads.

Hopefully Michigan can trundle through Rutgers at home to finish up this stupid-ass part of the schedule—thanks, Delany—and then get a proper rest, during which they can spend all their time prepping for what happens when all screens get switched. Because that is what they will see until they can beat it.

Arby's Ouroboros

Arby's Ouroboros

Submitted by Brian on January 16th, 2018 at 1:21 PM

1/15/2018 – Michigan 68, Maryland 67 – 16-4, 5-2 Big Ten

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan won the game you lose because it's almost too weird to call basketball. At several different points in last night's game I cried "what is going ON?!" to the world at large, usually because a Michigan player had missed a point blank shot or dribbled it off his own face. Crisler's halftime highlight montage had literally every single first-half Michigan bucket in it. It was that kind of game.

This happens from time to time, especially when you're on short rest and the opponent isn't. A virtual lid descends on the basket; things look more or less fine except in the period between the shot going up and the shot entering the basket, because it never actually enters the basket. It was miserable.

Naturally, Michigan followed this up with a period in the second half where you could have blindfolded Jordan Poole and friends and it wouldn't have mattered. By the time Maryland called its second befuddled timeout of the half, Michigan was 8/11 from three. This slightly contrasted with their first half shooting performance, which qualified the entire roster to join COBRA or enlist as a stormtrooper.

A gob-smacked Mark Turgeon afterwards:

Michigan scored barely over a point per possession in this game, and also sent the opposing coach into a tailspin of recriminations and purges. Basketball!

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So it wasn't a surprise when Michigan decided 59 points was sufficient to win and reverted to pew pew laser shooting. It wasn't a surprise when Maryland trundled back into the game despite having 80% free throw shooters brick front ends. It wasn't a surprise that Michigan's attempt to get it inbounds after Maryland cut it to two travelled from Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a 91% free throw shooter, to Zavier Simpson, a 50% free throw shooter.

Simpson clanging both shots was a little weird. Because it's kind of what I expected. Also weird: Michigan choosing three seconds left in the game to give up the first wide open three Kevin Huerter had seen all night despite Huerter's evident willingness to shoot from half court.

Then there are three seconds left, and the play you run with three seconds left—which never ever works for a dozen reasons—works so spectacularly well you end up with Abdur-Rahkman, who has damned and redeemed and damned himself already in this game, charging at the basket for a potential layup when a flat-topped moose thunks him from the side. Tweet tweet. Foul. Two shots.

This is what Abdur-Rahkman looks like as he shoots the ensuing free throws:

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These men are nihilists, dude. MAAR looks like a Michigan football fan during the fourth quarter of the bowl game. He sinks both free throws and Michigan wins.

And I want you to know this, reader: Crisler literally has a promotion where a ticket stub from a Michigan win during which they score 70 points nets you a free slider at Arby's. Yes. Nihilist Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman sends Michigan to victory with 68 points. Eat At Arby's. Don't Eat At Arby's. If ever a basketball game deserved to end on a Nihilist Arby's infinite regression paradox loop, it was this one.

BULLETS

WOOF? Uh... analysis almost seems beside the point. Michigan's offense bogged down a little bit early and had far too much of the late-clock stuff they haven't been good at, but probably a majority of their misses were at the rim. Maryland did a decent job challenging shots; they did not do enough to hold Michigan to 0.7 PPP while forcing one (ONE!) turnover.

Bad luck? Something goofy because they'd played on Saturday? I don't know. I think it's just one of those things. Michigan's insane three point shooting gallery in the second half was probably the same thing in the other direction: abnormal luck.

Anthony Cowan is the Steph Curry generation. Dude is a dude, and every time Maryland got in a late clock situation I thought about his Hoop Math page and its 50% unassisted 3 column. He was 4/6 from deep and maybe all of those were jacks? Two were heavily-contested buzzer-beaters off the dribble in the first half that were really, really painful given what was going on at the other end.

Anyway: Cowan's ability to rise up over anyone at any time is where basketball is going. I compared David DeJulius to Derrick Walton the last time a highlight video of his hit this here site, but immediately after this game I think Cowan is a closer fit.

This is a nice thing to think about your fourth-most-hyped incoming recruit.

Jordan Poole! Poole was a major catalyst for Michigan's second half comeback, and revealed afterwards that he named his NBA 2k character The Microwave in honor of Vinnie Johnson. My dude. He had his typical defensive issues and one over-eager turnover, but in a game where Michigan seemed afraid to take a shot his second half minutes were a breath of fresh air. All the potential in the world.

Wagner: back. Second straight game he leads Michigan in points, and 11 rebounds give him a rare-for-Mo double-double. Turgeon's right: Wagner adds an aspect to Michigan's offense that could take it from okay to excellent. We saw it against MSU, and in this game his 4/6 from deep was critical.

My Heart Is Full Of Nick Ward's Ankles

My Heart Is Full Of Nick Ward's Ankles

Submitted by Brian on January 15th, 2018 at 12:56 PM

1/13/2018 – Michigan 82, Michigan State 72 – 15-4, 4-2 Big Ten

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You may be aware that many college athletes with the option leave early for the pros.

I, too, am aware of this phenomenon because it has impacted me repeatedly. I am at peace with some of these departures. Win a big thing, do a business, and/or scrape the ceiling of your potential and I'm cool with it. Charles Woodson, Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Jack Johnson: go on, get out of here.

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Other guys absolutely should not and do not have to listen to my feelingsball about their careers, but their departures sting because they're on the verge of an all-conquering season that we never get to see. They leave Michigan without an indelible moment, or cathartically satisfying victory, or without setting several college towns across the Midwest ablaze with their mind.

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That's mostly fine; I'm not going to tell anyone to not get paid if they can get paid. But their careers at Michigan will perpetually feel a little incomplete. Guys in this bucket: DJ Wilson, Max Pacioretty, Mitch McGary, and yeah probably even Jabrill Peppers. The first thing I think about when any of those guys gets brought up is what could have been and was not. Nobody's fault. Just a thing. If "oh God what if DJ Wilson was on this team" didn't flash across your mind at some point during this week, you're a more serene man that I.

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Anyway, Moe Wagner can go now.

Moe Wagner could announce he's leaving the team this afternoon and I'd be fine with it*. Moe Wagner induced the most beautiful and futile Michigan State floor-slap of all time from Nick Ward's face. My heart is as full of Moe Wagner as it needs to be, for all time.

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*[Note to Moe Wagner: please do not call this bluff.]

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That there is a rest of the season after the events of this week is promising and also somewhat alarming. If Michigan could pull a Costanza here and immediately leave the meeting I would counsel them to do so, but there are games scheduled and so we press on. Suddenly every single one of those games except @ Purdue and maybe home against OSU is a game we're going to be real upset about losing, because the Big Ten is bad and Michigan is... very good?

Yes. Poke a rating system and it will tell you this. Kenpom flung Michigan up to 17th after the MSU game; Bart Torvik's system has them 14th. At some point we're probably going to start futzing with the stuff on Torvik's site that allows you to rank teams over an arbitrary period of time, like we did last year. Last year's post-Maverick team was a top ten outfit, period. This one might get there.

If it does, Michigan's ability to play unprecedented Beilein-era defense while simultaneously running a vicious five-out offense will be the reason. The play of the game wasn't actually Wagner turning Nick Ward's ankles into slurry (yes it was –ed) but rather his first pick-and-pop three just a couple minutes into the game. He canned that, and his next one, and aside from that one terrifying period midway through the first half when Jaren Jackson was Dikembe Mutumbo, Wagner's ability to haul his man out to the three point line created driving lanes.

These were less lanes and more caverns against Cassius Winston. Zavier Simpson missed three fast-break bunnies in the first minute, possibly because Jackson was swinging his crazy Gumby arms at them. After that he had 12 points on seven shot equivalents from inside the arc, five assists, and no turnovers. Simpson is coming into his own here, but if you took bets about who was going to be Michigan's most efficient scorer against a team of Ents that's blocking 20% of opponent shot attempts... well, Simpson's odds would have looked a lot like the Vikings'.

Meanwhile on the other end, Winston hit a couple shots but turned it over four times and finished with a game ORTG of 90. Simpson took that dude to the cleaners to the point where Izzo called his point guard out in the post-game press conference. (Izzo would like to make it clear that it's all his fault and he's taking 100% responsibility and also his point guard sucks and he hates him.)

Anyone who tells you they saw that coming short of Zavier Simpson's mom is lying... probably. Maybe there is a cadre of the aggressively reasonable out there, folks who can squint through whatever struggles that freshman or sophomore is having in John Beilein's offense and can see through to the finished product. If there are Michigan versions of these people they are sages indeed. Hypothetical MSU versions just have to look at the court, because whatever Miles Bridges is today he'll be until he escapes Tom Izzo's sweaty, increasingly unhinged paws.

Moe Wagner is one of the country's 40 best defensive rebounders, incidentally. He's a human vacuum now, which is convenient. We have to get the exploded remnants of Nick Ward's lower body off the court before resuming. That's tough, but I've got just the guy for the job.

BULLETS

Obligatory ref rogering section. Michigan State was in the bonus with five minutes gone in each half. This happens every time Michigan plays at Breslin despite Michigan's annual status as one of the nation's most foul-averse teams. (They're less so this year, 93rd instead of top ten, FWIW.)

The only surprising thing was that it took three minutes for TV Teddy to put a garbage foul on Mo Wagner, who watched Nick Ward fall over—inner ear issues for that dude—of his own volition and got hit with a potentially critical foul that took Michigan's leading scorer out of the lineup. His second foul was similarly phantom. It continued much in that vein:

Michigan had 16 free throws during Tom Izzo Eats His Liver Time; before that they had 19 to MSU's 33. This was not an effect of three point shooting. Michigan had just 15 threes; MSU had 12. Michigan had 14 bonus possessions (+3 OREB and -11 turnovers) and continued attacking inside. Michigan got called for nonsense, and MSU didn't.

This annually makes me furious. It's never going to get any better. But after Michigan was good enough to pull away and force TIEHLT with two minutes left, it's all the more reason to savor the performance. It would have been very, very easy to lose composure. Equivalent performances on a neutral court and Michigan blows the doors off by 20.

How about those free throws, though. Michigan was 18/19 from the line before those four terrifying Simpson misses. If they hit their season average... it does not bear thinking about. One dollar to whoever came up with the inbounds play where Simpson and MAAR swapped roles after the whistle blew. That got a 91% shooter to the line instead of a 52% shooter.

Simpson's performance at the line is increasingly inexplicable with every three he cans. He's verging on having a better 3PT% (47%) than FT% (52%). He was at 71% last year on 31 attempts, and he's a much better shooter this year. I don't get it. Hopefully it's salvageable. Having two non-big 50% FT shooters on the floor is rough.

D up. I caught a couple more Jordan-Poole-gets-caught backcuts on the replay; those stood out as almost the only easy buckets MSU got all game. Remember MSU running off of makes for 6-10 points for the last five years? Yeah, that's gone. MSU had almost literally zero transition offense.

This is a trend. Ace mentioned this on the podcast: Michigan's transition D is absurd.

Now that the rest of the D is actually pretty good that's paying off more and more.

Duncan was okay, and this is a big W. Michigan largely got away with Duncan Robinson versus Jaren Jackson. Jackson got a couple buckets on him, but Robinson was able to push Jackson out almost to the three point line repeatedly. MSU was trying to force the ball down Robinson's throat to the detriment of their offensive flow, and several possessions featured MSU wasting half the shot clock trying to exploit that matchup.

With Livers in foul trouble for a chunk of the game Michigan's ability to cope with Duncan Robinson on a top 5 NBA draft pick was a huge factor in the W.

Rebounding: real. I'm calling it: Michigan is a legitimately excellent defensive rebounding team. They just played the two burliest teams in the league and outrebounded both. They've also played Iowa, which is the top OREB team in league play, and fought them to a standstill.

I enjoy Jon Teske. Teske had 3 OREBs in just 8 minutes here and put up 4 points on 3 shot equivalents; he committed three fouls, but see above about the impossibility of a Michigan shot-challenger staying on the court at Breslin.

As a bonus Austin Davis didn't look overwhelmed during his two minutes, grabbing a board and playing a couple of defensive possessions well. Never write off a big.

Gentleman's Agreement

Gentleman's Agreement

Submitted by Brian on January 10th, 2018 at 12:33 PM

1/9/2018 – Michigan 69, Purdue 70 – 14-4, 3-2 Big Ten

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

This is all Illinois's fault. Or Miami's. Or whichever jabroni awarded this ball to the Hurricanes late in a 2013 NCAA tournament game:

Oh no I read the comments

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Oh no, college basketball listened to Youtube commenters. In the aftermath of that game the outrage was sufficient for the NCAA to institute video review on late-game out-of-bounds plays. Thus last night, when a Michigan win-or-OT situation turned into a loss thanks to a replay that literally took seven minutes as two referees pored over every frame of a Dakota Mathias rake on Charles Matthews and eventually awarded the ball to Purdue.

This was insane for many reasons.

One: I spent 39:54 watching a great basketball game between two good teams exchanging haymakers, and then I spent the rest of my life watching the back of a ref.

Two: any replay that takes that long surely falls in the realm of the disputed and should not be flipped.

Three: that call would never be made at any point during the first 39:54 because it does not matter if an offensive player who has been stripped of the ball going to the basket has his finger on the ball a nanosecond after the defender. The basketball rule book functionally reads "if a player is stripped going to the basket it's his team's ball unless it hits his leg or foot. "

Applying a different standard to a late game possession isn't correcting a call, it's getting it wrong in the name of pedantry. This happens a half dozen times in any basketball game...

...and 100% of the time the ball is awarded to the offense. That's the rule even if it's not the rule.

Four: Matt Painter essentially used a coach's challenge, which does not exist in basketball.

Surely the response there could have been "no" or "hard pass" or "Matt you seem nice and you've constructed a fascinating basketball team but please go to hell." It was not. So it goes.

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I'm obviously pretty cheesed off that Michigan lost one of their vanishingly few opportunities for a win that could move them up a seed line, but I'm even more vexed that the basketball game I was watching went from wonderful tense fun to a conference call. This is bad. It is bad for the game, and not just people walking bow-legged to work this morning.

If we're going to have replay—and, yes, we probably should, Illinois fans—we must protect the game from idiot pedants. And refs are all idiot pedants. That's the job: memorize this rule book and show up in front of thousands of people who hate you to enforce the rules of a meaningless game. Occasionally Kentucky fans dox you, and you kind of deserve it. This only appeals to the kind of person who loves correcting other people's mistakes more than he enjoys not having his life threatened. Only an idiot pedant signs up. TV Teddy is their king for a reason.

So. You get 30 seconds and then the screen turns off. Because if it's not obvious with three replays it's not worth correcting. Especially in a game like basketball where a gentleman's agreement not to foul someone out on some bullshit (unless their name is Mo Wagner) exists. Especially in a game like basketball that is lovely when it's flowing up and down the court and grimly dismal during its fouls-and-timeouts-and-more-timeouts-and-now-replays closing act.

Because if you didn't care about this game to start, and then got into it because it was terrific, you finished the game watching NCIS. Either figuratively, because it turned into a forensic exercise, or literally, because you changed the channel to one of the 17 different stations constantly playing NCIS.

Basketball should not have timeouts*, and it should take steps to assure replays are barely long enough to get one glue commercial in. Let's march to the grave properly distracted, people.

*[As previously discussed I am willing to accept a system where coaches can call timeout if they snip off one of their digits with garden shears and hand it to the ref.]

BULLETS

I will be very Brad Stevens. Stevens famously started walking towards the handshake line in some Butler game that came down to a buzzer-beater before that buzzer-beater went in or not, because one basket wasn't going to sway his opinion of his basketball team much. That's some cold-blooded Vulcan behavior and we'd do well to implement that in the aftermath here.

Michigan went toe to toe with a very very good team that was playing superbly, and the fact they lost is less important than they way they played. If you believe that opponent 3PT% is largely out of your control this game looks pretty dang good. And about that...

39607334181_36c871a57a_zA legion of Rip Hamiltons. Dan Dakich made an excellent point when he noted the sheer speed at which Purdue's gunners were running through their cuts and getting to their spots. Maybe half of Purdue's threes weren't drive-and-kick or extra-pass-to-exploit-rotation. They were lightning cuts off screens that Michigan didn't have much shot at defending. As I mentioned on twitter:

The difference is that Hamilton wasn't canning threes. Purdue is, at a Peak Beilein Team rate of 41%.

In this game Purdue hit 57% on a relatively high rate of threes (their 3PA/FGA of 37% is about the NCAA median), and I think that was more Purdue than Michigan. M has more or less maintained their ability to prevent launches from deep—currently 14th in the country—despite Billy Donlon's departure. They just ran into a buzzsaw.

[@ right: Campredon]

Hello, sir. Lovely of Isaiah Livers to provide sustenance to Ace in his time of need, what with his 249 ORTG. Ten points on four shots will do that. Especially when two of them are on this:

Remember last year when DJ Wilson would turn into the best basketball player in history for three minutes a game? Yeah. If Livers can add that kind of take to his suddenly-surging three point shooting... you know what? Never mind. I'm not trying to get him drafted.

Isaiah Livers is terrible. This is the end of the post, NBA scouts. Promise.

Anyway: since Big Ten play resumed Livers is 7/9 on twos and 7/8 on threes. He's also a clear upgrade from Duncan Robinson in all non-scoring ways. I think MGoBlog says this every 30 seconds, but it's past time to start him and let Robinson return to the microwave role he's excellent in.

This seems to be happening functionally: Livers as played 27 minutes against Purdue and Iowa. Now if Robinson could get his minutes when the opposition has 7th and 8th guys on the floor that would be *kisses fingers*.

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7'3" guy on 2 guard [Campredon]

Panic on the streets of Lafayette. I don't know if Matt Painter's constant absurd switching was brilliant or idiotic. It was both? At the same time? Probably? Yes. It oscillated wildly between those two states on possession to possession basis.

On some possessions Michigan would stare blankly into the middle distance for 25 seconds before Charles Matthews thundered at a 7'2" or 7'3" guy with little success. On others Zavier Simpson would check to make sure he had the laces right on the basketball—another good Dakich catch—before lifting up in front of a helpless Isaac Haas. Michigan seemed to figure it out in the second half when they made their push to tie, and then it evaporated late on two or three horrendous offensive possessions, any one of which could have produced a game-winning basket.

I don't know. It's weird and desperate and I feel like if Michigan saw that kind of thing on a regular basis they'd destroy it. Since they don't you get a lot of isolation plays from a team that doesn't have a lot of good iso players, and the offense can turn into a confused slog. The rematch should be fascinating.

Teske is a dude. Michigan got a fast break bucket in the second half largely because Jon Teske was the tallest tree around; he emerged to get a DREB that looked more like an OREB because he was swarmed with dudes. That was a four-point swing. His extended PT in the second half saw Michigan get a point closer to Purdue, and while he didn't score his two OREBs and generally excellent defense were critical.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say Michigan loses by ten if you replace Teske with Mark Donnal.

DREBs closer to real. In a similar vein: Michigan won the rebounding battle against Purdue with a 34% OREB rate vs Purdue's 24%. This isn't quite as much of an upset as it might seem like. Despite having the two biggest guys in the conference, Purdue's pretty meh on the boards.

They're not bad enough that Michigan will turn up its nose at a W in that category. You might want to sit down for this: Michigan is currently the best DREB team in Big Ten play. Please tell me you're not reading this while driving oh no you hit a tree.

A brief scheduling note. Michigan played Jacksonville during their annual Very Bad Team Invitational in December. This is going to be a boat anchor all year as the Dolphins trundle towards an 11-20 record, per Kenpom.

Purdue, on the other hand, scheduled Lipscomb. Lipscomb is also an Atlantic Sun team, but they're projected to win the conference. They've played four major-conference teams and lost by 22, 23, 10, and 22, but if and when they're 22-7 at the end of the year against a schedule virtually identical to Jacksonville they're going to be much less of an RPI disaster.

Michigan should be scheduling the Lipscombs of the world.

Marinate For Two Months

Marinate For Two Months

Submitted by Brian on January 3rd, 2018 at 1:38 PM

1/2/2018 – Michigan 75, Iowa 68 – 12-3, 2-1 Big Ten

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emerging [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

There are two* kinds of John Beilein basketball teams: flamethrowers from the drop and teams that start in disarray before assembling themselves, Voltron-like, somewhere in the middle of the season.

These latter teams are sometimes flamethrowers—see last year's edition, which was a top 10 team for the second half of the season and was one Walton pull-up three away from winning three different Sweet Sixteen games in one year. Sometimes they are mere crème brulee torches, like Beilein's first tourney team. No matter the intensity, there's almost always a "click" moment for floundering Beilein teams.

It's too early to tell if Michigan's fit the buckle in the clip or if it will in fact happen this season, but surely there are suggestions that it has. Like this:

image

That is Zavier Simpson's line against Iowa. It looks like a Bonafide Offensive Contributor's Line. This is new. It's getting less new. If you poke recent box scores with a stick you get a picture of a point guard who's emerging. Simpson had a total of five points in Michigan's first four games against Kenpom top 100 opponents; his assist to TO ratio was 5:6. In his most recent four games against non-bodybag opponents he's got 45 points, 12 assists, and four turnovers. And seven steals against just four fouls.

This is a thing you feel gradually, and then there's three seconds on the shot clock and Simpson has an open three he passes up and you're like WHY DIDN'T YOU SHOOT THAT AIGH and... oh. Huh. Instinct now says an open Simpson three is a very good idea, what with his... uh... 46% shooting.

That can't be right.

And yet it is. No amount of staring at the numbers makes them waver into a reasonable improvement from Simpson's 5-of-19-on-shots-that-kind-of-look-like-your-grandma-is-taking-them freshman season. It still says 46%, which is nonsense. It'll still be nonsense if and when Simpson regresses back towards reality, but it's very Beilein nonsense. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit 29% as a freshman, and since he's been a 37% shooter on over 250 attempts. This is a thing.

A functional point guard and Isaiah Livers whispering that he, too, can hit threes and Michigan might be on to something. That something is likely to be a seven-seed because Michigan has only three upcoming games against certain tourney teams and they're the #2 and #3 teams on Kenpom. The rest of the conference has been infected with Rutgersitis that verges on terminal. Maui was bad; so was a nonconference schedule with no fewer than five RPI boat anchors.

If the scheduling is a persistent Beilein annoyance it's more than made up for by the annual flourishing of some guy the recruiting industry thought was a future plumber. If the whole defense-and-rebounding thing is a long term reality, Michigan might be in business for the next few years. Especially once Brent Hibbits rips off the warmups and starts canning no-look threes. You heard it here first.

*[There is a third kind that loses an NBA first round pick and another prime contributor to injury and florps its way to the finish line however it can, but those are filed under Acts of God.]

Bullets

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rebounding? a thing? [Campredon]

About that rebounding. I'm still a wee bit skeptical since Michigan has often entered Big Ten play with a shiny Kenpom DREB number only to finish 11th in the league, but that shiny number has never been as shiny as #12 in the country, where they currently sit. That's tops in the conference, albeit against (mostly) the #298 nonconference schedule.

Still... this feels more sustainable than many falsely positive DREB rates at this juncture. Michigan is getting after it as a team, with every starter over 10% in DREB rate and Wagner hauling down a whopping 27%. That'll come down but it's a huge upgrade from last year's 15. Wagner can't do much about his rim-protection deficiencies at this point but his NBA experience last offseason has seemingly emphasized to him that he needs to round out his box scores.

John Teske, meanwhile, is a huge upgrade on Mark Donnal. Donnal had an 11% DREB rate last year; Teske is at 22%. Zavier Simpson has an 11% DREB rate. At Clemson Donnal is currently sporting a 6.3% DREB rate. It's a new world at C.

Add in Charles Matthews, the best rebounding wing—but not point guard—Michigan's had in a minute, and Michigan has a decent shot at finishing in the top third of the Big Ten. Which is new.

Moving forward with Livers. Ace has been yelling about Isaiah Livers for most of the year and it's probably time to go with him as the starter over Duncan Robinson, whose defensive deficiencies are much better hidden when the opposition throws some backups on the court. Livers is a much better rebounder and on-ball defender, and I think the big efficiency gaps for both Livers and Teske are more about Robinson getting shoehorned into a role that doesn't suit him:

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There's undoubtedly some randomness in there since Livers isn't driving Michigan's offensive success with his 108 ORTG. Wagner and Robinson together are bad news on D and Michigan should strive to keep that combo off the floor. The most logical way to do that is to flip Livers and Robinson.

I would also accept "play Mathews at the four some," since against certain matchups he'd be fine. Michigan's best two defensive possessions against Tyler Cook were probably the two times Matthews got switched onto him. But Ace hates that idea even if he is a Jordan Poole stan.

Moving some usage around. Beilein's best teams barely have anyone in the "major contributors" second of Kenpom that denotes a high-usage (24-28%) player. (A "go-to-guy" is virtually unheard of.)  Last year's #4 offense had zero major contributors. Ditto the #3 2014 team. It took NPOY-level Trey Burke to bust through the Beilein usage ceiling.

Michigan does not have a Naismith candidate this year so it would behoove them to slide some of the usage currently going to Matthews and Wagner to MAAR and Simpson. This may be in process with Simpson; see above. That would give their offense some upward mobility and is their best path towards being a team that is legitimately a top 15 or top 20 outfit.

Gravestone

Gravestone

Submitted by Brian on November 27th, 2017 at 1:31 PM

11/25/2017 – Michigan 20, Ohio State 31 – 8-4, 5-4 Big Ten

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[Bryan Fuller]

John O'Korn sat in a press conference on Saturday and broke down. He blamed himself, and himself alone, for Michigan's latest loss to Ohio State. And he was correct. I don't think I've ever seen a Michigan-Ohio State game so clearly decided by one guy's inability to hack it.

Previous terrible individual performances have been given in concert. The 2007 game featured Chad Henne without a throwing arm, but it also featured an offensive line that had to drag Alex Mitchell out of retirement midseason and the infamous picture that resulted. Nick Sheridan averaged 3.6 yards an attempt the year after, but nobody missed the forest for that particular tree as Michigan finished a 3-9 season with a 42-7 loss. And so forth and so on. The sad fact of the last decade of Michigan football is that when Michigan gets in a competitive game against Ohio State it's usually because someone is playing over their head.

This was different. This was Michigan feeling like the better football team except for one glaring black hole at the most important position on the field. The crowd felt the agony of this keenly with every errant pass or unnecessary sack. O'Korn was not booed, per se, but the desperate groans that issued involuntarily from the assembled masses were almost worse. There's a certain tenor of "ohhhawwww" a crowd can issue that is the pure, distilled sound of frustration. I have memorized this after Saturday, and find it replaying in my head whenever there's a spare neuron not playing Baby Signing Time songs. (This is rarely.)

Even after all those moans Michigan had not one but two shots to go ahead very late. Those ended with back-to-back throws that are burned into the retinas of every Michigan fan and will be replayed when "John O'Korn" is mentioned. Possibly even corn. Or Korn. I can't mention my Pandora station ever again on this website. Those throws were a fourth and four pass that went yards over the head of a screamingly wide open Chris Evans and an interception on which two Michigan receivers were open, and not within 20 yards of the ball.

That is O'Korn's football gravestone, chiseled, checked, and done.

O'Korn knows it, and wasn't going to offer up any bullshit platitudes afterwards. Say what you want about his play—although I can't imagine there's any excoriation in any language that hasn't already been delivered—but the guy did not shy away from the enormity of the thing that had just happened to him, a living, breathing human who has to go through the next sixty years introducing himself to people and hoping they've never heard of the most popular sport in America.

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At about the same time O'Korn was breaking down in public, someone logged on to this website and typed "fuck John O'Korn," into it, posted it, and then got a bunch of upvotes. A guy who started arguing with the various toxic manbabies in this thread that O'Korn was a virtually unpaid person thrust into a position he should never have been in was consistently downvoted.

After taking down several threads and banning a dozen people I yanked commenting for about a day. Naturally, this resulted in these same people fleeing to twitter to tell me it was PATHETIC that I COULDN'T HANDLE NEGATIVITY, because I didn't want them throwing their poop in a place I feel responsible for. And I didn't want to wonder what they were saying while I was doing anything other than commenting on Michigan football. Also, I hate them.

If you're one of these people reading this column I'd like to make it clear that there is something wrong with you. The vast majority of people who come to this site don't post on it, because it is like every other website in the world. Those that do are split between normal people with something to say, and you, the person too dumb to know you shouldn't say anything. You are a tiny minority of this fanbase that gets outsized attention because you're dumb and loud, and most people are willing to throw away the good parts of the comments because of you:

Next football season will not be like this, because you will be gone from this website. If you have any doubt in your mind whether I'm talking about you, yes, I am talking about you. If you're mad at Ace for saying the fanbase is the worst part of his job, I'm talking about you. Because he's not talking about 90% of the fanbase, he's talking about you.

No one needs to yell at John O'Korn, who clearly understands the implications of what just occurred in ways you do not. Nobody needs to say anything to John O'Korn ever again. Dude needs a hug and a Malaysian passport. And even though O'Korn just set a winnable Ohio State game on fire in a way that has probably never happened before or will happen again, I care a lot more about his feelings than some jabroni on the internet who doesn't have to introduce himself under his screen name.

That's it. There's no big sweeping theme here, nothing about the direction of this program or where this fits in the historical firmament. Just an incredibly obvious black hole...

...and a bunch of people who are incapable of seeing it.

AWARDS

Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Rashan Gary. Finally got a little sack luck, as Devin Bush flushed Barrett to him on one of his two sacks. He added a third TFL amongst ten tackles, which is a very large number for a DE, especially because he missed a big chunk of OSU's first TD drive with a recurrence of the shoulder stinger (or similar injury) that he's been battling all season.

#2 Mike McCray. Eight solo tackles and two TFLs as McCray was a major factor in Michigan's ability to keep OSU to under 200 yards of offense until a late fade, none of which was on him. He didn't get edged, and managed to survive the return of Oh No Mike McCray On A Flanked Out Running Back without getting targeted.

#3(T) Chris Evans and Karan Higdon. Michigan's tailback duo had 165 yards on 28 touches, 5.9 yards a pop. Evans caught five passes as Michigan finally paid off on that preseason hype; Higdon was able to get the corner a couple times as well. If the offensive line can come together next year one or both are candidates to have All Big Ten season... or at least they would be if they weren't going to cannibalize each others' carries.

Honorable mention: Mo Hurst and Devin Bush turned in excellent performances; Michigan's cornerbacks again almost pitched a shutout, albeit with the aid of a couple drops. DPJ set up Michigan's second touchdown. Mason Cole had an edge two for one that sprung Crawford early in the third to get Michigan's third TD.

KFaTAotW Standings.

9: Rashan Gary(T2 Indiana, #1 Rutgers, T2 Wisconsin, #1 OSU).   
8:
Devin Bush (#1 Florida, T2 Cincinnati, T2 Air Force, #1 Purdue), Mo Hurst (#1 MSU, #2(T), Indiana, #1 Wisconsin),  Karan Higdon (#1 Indiana, #2 PSU, T2 Minnesota, T3 OSU).
6: Mason Cole (#1 Cincinnati, T2 Rutgers, T3 Minnesota), Chase Winovich(#1 Air Force, #2a Purdue, T2 Wisconsin),
5: Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati, #3 PSU, #1 Minnesota), David Long (T3 Indiana, #1 PSU, #3 Maryland)    
4: Chris Evans(T2 Minnesota, #2 Maryland).   
3: Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati), Lavert Hill(#2 MSU, T3 Indiana)), Josh Metellus (#1 Maryland), Mike McCray(T2 Air Force, #2 OSU).
2: Quinn Nordin (#3 Florida, #3 Air Force), John O'Korn (#2 Purdue), Sean McKeon(T3 Purdue, #3 Rutgers), Mike Onwenu(T2 Rutgers),
1: Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati),  Zach Gentry (T3 Purdue), Brad Robbins(#3 MSU), Brandon Watson (T3 Indiana), Ben Bredeson(T3 Minnesota), Donovan Peoples-Jones (#3 Wisconsin).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

The entire first quarter? Yes, that.

Honorable mention: Oh man I should not have used up the whole first quarter before the honorable mention section. That was a real good first quarter. Oh: Kekoa Crawford

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

Of the two chiseled, checked, and done plays the Evans miss stands out since it was a wide open guy less than ten yards downfield.

Honorable mention: Various other things that happened when Michigan dropped back to pass. I could tell you about them, but you know. Metellus gets lost on two late drag routes. Watson misses a third and thirteen PBU. Nordin misses an XP.

[After THE JUMP: less than usual, i tellya]

Original Sin

Original Sin

Submitted by Brian on November 20th, 2017 at 1:13 PM

11/18/2017 – Michigan 10, Wisconsin 24 – 8-3, 5-3 Big Ten

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[Bryan Fuller]

In the aftermath of a good thing that turned bad, or vice-versa, there's always the attempt to say This Was The Moment. Most of the time this is just ad-hoc narrative placement; obligatory XKCD link goes here. Not so Saturday. Anyone attempting to slap a big ol' narrative on Michigan-Wisconsin couldn't help but land on Brandon Peters lying on the turf, and the team-wide deflation that took place immediately afterwards. And... yessir. You are correct.

Wisconsin's offense had just emerged from a deep and restful slumber to go up 14-10 thanks to consecutive third and long conversions, one a 51-yard slot fade at a guy who was Not Lavert Hill, the other a slick double post route that Alex Hornibrook executed on. Before that the Wisconsin offense looked like any other Big Ten outfit beset with a quarterback trying to find out how many limbs he had. The Badgers had eight drives; they had four first downs*.

Maybe if Michigan was still up because the replay official was any average person on the internet capable of deciphering a still frame...

...or a two-hand shove in the back to Ambry Thomas was called on a freak punt return TD, the defense would have held together better. As it was, being down four points with the dead certainty in your heart that you will not score is an invitation to crack. We saw that many times under Brady Hoke, the valiant three quarters undone by an exhausted and spiritless fourth. That and a quarterback assaulted to the point where he could not continue.

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Michigan's not real good this year for a variety of reasons. Foremost amongst them is pass protection even Devin Gardner thinks is bad. Michigan is down two quarterbacks headed into the Ohio State game, which is bad even for a program that can't get their QB to the final week without some Spinal Tap drummer business befalling him. This is the original sin of the Michigan offense.

Some of the things that happen are relatively explicable: freshman Cesar Ruiz screws up in his first start; Mason Cole occasionally proves he's not an NFL left tackle; a running back gets run over. What takes Michigan from mediocre to awful is the inexplicable stuff.

Michigan's pass protection has often been absurd this year, what with gentlemen going entirely unblocked on any sort of stunt, or not-stunt. This reached its apex on third and six in the first half when Garrett Dooley, an outside linebacker who entered the game with a team-leading 6.5 sacks, lined up clearly intending to rush and ran directly at Brandon Peters for a thunder-sack. Juwann Bushell-Beatty was the nearest OL; he was blocking another dude. Cesar Ruiz, a gap further inside, also had a rusher. Chris Evans went in a route immediately. Patrick Kugler ended up blocking nobody.

There were two other instances of horrendous pass protection that saw Michigan fail to handle a stunt. On one Karan Higdon chopped a guy ably; Kugler left his man to also block that guy. That resulted in a chop-block call. Meanwhile, Kugler's guy ran up the middle and sacked Peters. The Peters injury was another stunt on which Kugler was the most obvious culprit.

Kugler might be a major issue. That's certainly the nicest way to interpret Michigan's pass protection issues since he's gone next year, and anything that's the nicest way to think about a problem should be interrogated thoroughly. But I don't remember things like this happening last year, when Mason Cole was at center. Kugler hasn't been physically overmatched—he generally grades out okay to well in UFR—so the most obvious reason he hasn't been able to get on the field until year five is an inability hack it mentally. I wonder if Michigan would stick with Cole at center and whatever may come at tackle if they had a do-over.

Probably not if the second best tackle on the roster is then Nolan Ulizio.

There are two ways to proceed from here. One is to point out the colossal failure of Brady Hoke's offensive line recruiting and the Grant Newsome injury, which is currently in its second year. Michigan had barely enough dudes to field a good OL and a cliff after, and then the least replaceable guy went out, etc.

The other is to point at a fifth-year senior at center who's organizing one of America's very worst pass protection units and wonder why Tim Drevno and company couldn't field, like, the #80 pass pro unit with a bunch of highly touted four stars. This line of questioning will pause briefly to note the total lack of tackles in the 2015 class after Swenson was booted and Hamilton flipped to Stanford. It will also cherry-pick random freshmen or backups from the history of college football who weren't total disasters.

The latter take is way more likely to @ you, or call a radio station to declare something UNACCEPTABLE, but it's correct. (Ish.) So is the calmer take. Both are correct except insofar as they ignore the correctness of the other half of the equation. Michigan was unprepared to block this season, and that's because they aren't the kind of program that just reloads everywhere. Part of that is having your six-man class of would-be redshirt seniors whittled down to one guy who might not be very good, and part of that is that Michigan's reloading with Rashan Gary on defense and Nolan Ulizio on offense.

We'll see what happens next year. I don't have enough information to start yelling about it. I do have enough to approach the game this weekend with zero expectations other than pain. That's all too familiar, but whatever.

*[I am counting the drive right before the half since it started with 2:20 on the clock.]

AWARDS

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[Patrick Barron]

Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Mo Hurst. I am pretty sure that the long run was on the other DT, not Hurst, which means that Hurst was a major force in the middle without much to blame as Michigan throttled the Wisconsin offense almost wholly until a late fade.

#2(T) Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary. See above: Gary was regularly tackled by his opponent but still got drive and sent backs elsewhere; Winovich had two TFLs against a Wisconsin O that rarely gives them up. This is a point split here because I want it to be. The points are made up and don't matter.

#3 Donovan Peoples-Jones. Four catches for 64 yards and one should-have-been touchdown on which he did (barely) get his left foot down first. Translating from Michigan offense to normal offense, that's approximately 300 yards and six touchdowns.

Honorable mention: Devin Bush had a Default Hornibrook Interception; though Aubrey Solomon had a solid day early but may have faded late. Long and Watson were all over the UW receivers; Metellus and Kinnel both got called for some garbage PI calls but were in excellent coverage otherwise.

KFaTAotW Standings.

8: Devin Bush (#1 Florida, T2 Cincinnati, T2 Air Force, #1 Purdue), Mo Hurst (#1 MSU, #2(T), Indiana, #1 Wisconsin).   
7: Karan Higdon (#1 Indiana, #2 PSU, T2 Minnesota).
6: Mason Cole (#1 Cincinnati, T2 Rutgers, T3 Minnesota), Chase Winovich(#1 Air Force, #2a Purdue, T2 Wisconsin), Rashan Gary(T2 Indiana, #1 Rutgers, T2 Wisconsin).   
5: Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati, #3 PSU, #1 Minnesota), David Long (T3 Indiana, #1 PSU, #3 Maryland)    
4: Chris Evans(T2 Minnesota, #2 Maryland).   
3: Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati), Lavert Hill(#2 MSU, T3 Indiana)), Josh Metellus (#1 Maryland).   
2: Quinn Nordin (#3 Florida, #3 Air Force), John O'Korn (#2 Purdue), Sean McKeon(T3 Purdue, #3 Rutgers), Mike Onwenu(T2 Rutgers),
1: Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati), Mike McCray(T2 Air Force), Zach Gentry (T3 Purdue), Brad Robbins(#3 MSU), Brandon Watson (T3 Indiana), Ben Bredeson(T3 Minnesota), Donovan Peoples-Jones (#3 Wisconsin).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

Quinn Nordin hits a field goal to put Michigan up 10-7, which momentarily feels like enough.

Honorable mention: Michigan scores a touchdown!

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

10-7 turns to not be enough as Jaylen Kelly-Powell is torched on a slot fade that Hornibrook slots in there. Major question why JKP was deployed there since that coverage instance was far worse than any slot fade the safeties had dealt with this year.

Honorable mention: Brandon Peters is blasted out of the game. Brandon Peters is blasted earlier.

[After THE JUMP: eat at Arby's]

I Have Already Forgotten This Game

I Have Already Forgotten This Game

Submitted by Brian on November 13th, 2017 at 12:42 PM

11/11/2017 – Michigan 35, Maryland 10 – 8-2, 5-2 Big Ten

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something happened somewhere [Paul Sherman]

Details from Michigan's most recent football game are impossible to remember. I have literally just rewatched the game and written much about the specifics of what occurred below, but if you asked me right now what happened in the 2017 Maryland game I would start with "uh..." and maybe get to "I think we blocked a punt" before screaming "oh god what is that?!" and running away. My memory of last year's game against Maryland is vague annoyance at tunnel screens; the year before that Ty Isaac fumbled a couple times and there was a cool screen to Jake Butt. All other knowledge requires a lookup.

So too this season, which has featured two very memorable losses and a gray sea of immediately forgotten three-score-plus wins over bad teams. Per this site's preferred fancystat, S&P+, Michigan's best win this year is over #38 Purdue*. Indiana is next at #62, and then it's a bunch of teams 80th or worse. Marquee Nonconference Opponent Florida entered the weekend 103rd. Next week they will play Florida State for the Spiritual Apple Cup.

Mentioning Indiana just reminded me that Michigan went to overtime with the Hoosiers, which I had forgotten.

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There was a mild hue and cry when Michigan was left out of the first cofopoff rankings of the season, well behind any other two-loss major conference team. But it was mild, because one glance at the schedule is sufficient to confirm the suspicion that Michigan hasn't actually done anything this season.

It's not their fault that Florida was until recently led by a man who had to leave the room when that Left Shark thing was going on. It's not their fault that usually decent-to-good programs like Cincinnati and Air Force have cratered this season. It's not their fault that Jim Delany added Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten, or that Minnesota and Purdue are two of their three crossover games. But when your best scalp is "moderately feisty 4-6 team"... I mean, don't be surprised when you aren't invited to the college football prom.

Michigan now has an opportunity to change that, with two top-ten teams to close the regular season. Wisconsin is this year's ultimate Ain't Played Nobody Team; their top S&P+ opponent is... Florida Atlantic, which is admittedly higher than Purdue in those ranking at #24. Their second best win is a virtual tossup between enigmatic Iowa and... yep, Purdue. Ohio State looks invincible some of the time, and some of the time they lose to Iowa by 31.

So it's possible. Michigan is a deeply flawed team currently on their third quarterback and second right tackle. They can't pass protect. They can't make a field goal of late. They can run a bit, and can throttle most opposing offenses. They've had three straight games in which they run out to a big lead and nurse it home with stuff they've already put on film; by this point the tendency-breaking whizbang stuff must be piled box upon box in the fireworks warehouse.

This would be a good time to see what they look like against #15. They've got S&P+s #3 and #1 teams on the docket, and that looks like a tough road to take. Even if you're skeptical of the number people on the computers, Vegas didn't see this weekend's game much differently. They installed Wisconsin as more than a touchdown favorite.

But there's no other choice if Michigan wants this season to be something other than a gray expanse pockmarked with the occasional depressing defeat. Which is fine, to some extent, since virtually the whole team returns next year. The howling of the radio Petes will be annoyingly shrill, though.

*[Numbers don't yet take this weekend's games into account, but when they do the gist will be the same.]

AWARDS

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one point for mutumbo finger wag [Sherman]

Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Josh Metellus. Metellus blocked a punt, had multiple instances of excellent coverage as yet another team tried to exploit Michigan safeties' man coverage, and regularly flashed into the screen to shut down outside runs for minimal gain. 

#2 Chris Evans. 109 yards on just 17 touches, and many of those required Evans to dodge a tackle before he could get going. Should have had a bit more but Peters didn't see him on a mesh route that he was wide open on. Find this man in space.

#3 David Long. An interception with an 80 yard return and, with Hill going out, the lion's share of the work as Michigan held DJ Moore well under season averages. Also had another nice PBU.

Honorable mention: Mo Hurst does Mo Hurst things; Devin Bush was the main guy on the failed fake punt and did work on the incessant screens; Tyree Kinnel was forced into a lot of tackles and didn't miss any; Karan Higdon broke a big play from nothing and was generally effective; Zach Gentry had his most productive day as a WR.

KFaTAotW Standings.

8: Devin Bush (#1 Florida, T2 Cincinnati, T2 Air Force, #1 Purdue)
7: Karan Higdon (#1 Indiana, #2 PSU, T2 Minnesota).
6: Mason Cole (#1 Cincinnati, T2 Rutgers, T3 Minnesota).
5: Chase Winovich(#1 Air Force, #2a Purdue), Mo Hurst (#1 MSU, #2(T), Indiana), Rashan Gary(T2 Indiana, #1 Rutgers), Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati, #3 PSU, #1 Minnesota), David Long (T3 Indiana, #1 PSU, #3 Maryland)    
4: Chris Evans(T2 Minnesota, #2 Maryland).   
3: Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati), Lavert Hill(#2 MSU, T3 Indiana)), Josh Metellus (#1 Maryland).   
2: Quinn Nordin (#3 Florida, #3 Air Force), John O'Korn (#2 Purdue), Sean McKeon(T3 Purdue, #3 Rutgers), Mike Onwenu(T2 Rutgers),
1: Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati), Mike McCray(T2 Air Force), Zach Gentry (T3 Purdue), Brad Robbins(#3 MSU), Brandon Watson (T3 Indiana), Ben Bredeson(T3 Minnesota).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

Michigan's motion discombobulates the Maryland defense so badly that Michigan gets an easy 30-yard pitch and catch TD that puts them up 21-0 and more or less ends the competitive section of the game.

Honorable mention: Metellus blocks a punt; Maryland tries a fake punt that goes Poorly; Higdon rips off a huge catch-and-run with a GET ORF ME stiffarm; Evans seals the game with a nifty inside zone run. Other things? I feel that other things did happen in this game.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

Quinn Nordin misses a field goal of less than 40 yards, which officially puts us on #collegekickers watch after it went so well early in the season.

Honorable mention: Maryland has a touchdown drive. Michigan's third quarter features a lot of three and outs and not many yards. Peters misses a very open DPJ for a touchdown.

[After THE JUMP: hero-type substances on the half-shell]

Slanted And Faceplanted

Slanted And Faceplanted

Submitted by Brian on November 6th, 2017 at 12:12 PM

11/4/2017 – Michigan 33, Minnesota 10 – 7-2, 4-2 Big Ten

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FACE TO FACE [Bryan Fuller]

Michigan has a new starting quarterback, a highly touted redshirt freshman who flashed potential a week ago. This week he got his first-ever start, completed some simple throws early, and then went home to have a cheese sandwich. Probably? Maybe? I don't recall if he continued playing after the first drive.

He probably did. Starting quarterbacks leaving the stadium during a game tend to make the news. I think I remember a hitch on third down in there somewhere, now that you mention it. But if Brandon Peters hadn't stayed around the result would have been little different, because Michigan's rushing game can optimistically be termed a Ground Assault now. Michigan assaulted a large number of Gophers on Saturday night. They did not battle or fight or contest Minnesota, because all those terms imply a certain evenness. They assaulted Minnesota, like a gang of Hell's Angels descending on a gaming convention. "Aaaaaargh, why are you still playing Settlers of Catan instead of something fun," screamed Michigan's running game, metaphorically. Also, I hope, literally because Catan is trash dot emoji.

I don't even have to subtract sacks to bring you a stat that's absurd: 10 yards per carry. Ten. One first down of yardage per carry. Also this:

In three weeks there will be a ripped from the headlines Law & Order episode in which Michigan is convicted of murder in the zeroth degree, because of this game. Ice T will accuse Michigan of being hopped up on Zebra Glitter and only be half-wrong. Michigan is hopped up on life, Ice T. Life and 60+ yard rushing touchdowns. And murder.

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ANKLE TO FACE [Fuller]

Touchdown murder.

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And now for the lame bit: hoping this sticks. Falling apart at the end has been the fate of all excellent Michigan football things over the past decade or so. The 2006 defense. Denard Robinson's elbow. Chad Henne's shoulder. Last year's top 5 team. Michigan's pursuit of David Cutcliffe. All of these things ended poorly.

Also some less than excellent ones like Brady Hoke. And last year's passing offense. You probably don't remember this but this was the state of Michigan's passing attack after nine games last year:

  • Speight's 8.9 YPA leads the Big Ten by almost a half yard and is 11th nationally.
  • His 15-3 TD/INT ratio is second in the Big Ten to JT Barrett (21-4).
  • His passer rating is now five points clear of Perry Hills for best in the league and is 14th nationally.
  • He's fifth nationally in ESPN's QBR metric, which accounts for rushing yards and SOS.
  • S&P+ now has Michigan's passing attack third(!) in the country.

I wrote that and can barely remember it in the soup that followed. Michigan got ambushed in Iowa City the next week—though not as ambushed as Ohio State did on Saturday, amirite—and Speight got hurt at the end of that game. Since it's been somewhere between coping and total disaster against teams not named Purdue.

So it must be mentioned that the parking lots that were once Rutgers and Minnesota are very likely to be terrible run defenses, and Minnesota's was badly hurt by their injury issues in the secondary. Back when Harbaugh was hired I talked about his Stanford offenses, which went against the prevailing trends in college football by putting very big guys on little guys; here Michigan put no guys on the littlest guys. They ignored the Minnesota cornerbacks and saw that decision pay off with a series of comically bad attempts to execute a run fit. This kind of hamblasting is always equal parts you, the opponent, and luck.

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DESPAIR TO FACE [Fuller]

If you're still waiting for the other shoe to drop, that is a well-learned tendency. I sort of am as well. The last two opponents did not have sufficient confidence in their secondaries to jam everyone forward, and they were probably correct to do so. Michigan's passing game is still almost totally nonexistent, and the two heavies at the back end of the schedule are going to make Michigan suffer for that deficiency.

Probably, anyway. Michigan has been steadily building to this for half a season and will continue refining now that they've put their foot down and become a thing. That thing is a semi truck careening wildly towards the end of the season. Maybe it will flip over in a ditch. Maybe it will careen right through a series of animals and trees until the thick paste on the grill is an unspeakable mélange of the defeated.

HIGHLIGHTS

AWARDS

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no no no no no no no no no[Eric Upchurch]


Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Khaleke Hudson. Michigan appears to have noticed what we did while taping the podcast on Sunday: Chase Winovich got credit for the sack on the intentional grounding call. They've fixed that and are now claiming 3 sacks and 8 TFLs for Hudson. The former is a solo Don Brown Hat Trick; the latter is a school record. So, yeah, that's good enough.

Gotta block that punt, though.

#2(t) Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. The backs edge ahead of their top blockers this week because they made a lot for themselves. Higdon ran through Cesar Ruiz on his first big run and set a number of others up with hard cuts after initial feints that bought him a second level block. For his part, Evans ripped off two 60+ yard TDs, the second one featuring a broken tackle near the line of scrimmage on an unblocked linebacker.

#3(t) Mason Cole and Ben Bredeson. Two gentlemen that did work on the opposition defense, consistently and ruthlessly. JBB and Ruiz narrowly miss because their pass protection was alarming.

Honorable mention: Mo Hurst did his usual Mo Hurst things. The rest of the front seven was impregnable on anything but a jet sweep. JBB and Ruiz and Kugler do deserve some recognition for their ground efforts.

KFaTAotW Standings.

8: Devin Bush (#1 Florida, T2 Cincinnati, T2 Air Force, #1 Purdue)
7: Karan Higdon (#1 Indiana, #2 PSU, T2 Minnesota).
6: Mason Cole (#1 Cincinnati, T2 Rutgers, T3 Minnesota).
5: Chase Winovich(#1 Air Force, #2a Purdue), Mo Hurst (#1 MSU, #2(T), Indiana), Rashan Gary(T2 Indiana, #1 Rutgers), Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati, #3 PSU, #1 Minnesota).
4: David Long (T3 Indiana, #1 PSU)
3: Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati), Lavert Hill(#2 MSU, T3 Indiana))
2: Quinn Nordin (#3 Florida, #3 Air Force), John O'Korn (#2 Purdue), Sean McKeon(T3 Purdue, #3 Rutgers), Mike Onwenu(T2 Rutgers), Chris Evans(T2 Minnesota).   
1: Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati), Mike McCray(T2 Air Force), Zach Gentry (T3 Purdue), Brad Robbins(#3 MSU), Brandon Watson (T3 Indiana), Ben Bredeson(T3 Minnesota).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

Uh... let's pick the first Evans touchdown, on which he broke a linebacker tackle and then glided into the endzone.

Fun fact: I always think "glode" is the right past tense of "glide" for one point six seconds.

Honorable mention: Higdon's enormous touchdown. The other enormous Evans touchdown. Enormous Higdon run that doesn't reach the endzone. Khaleke Hudson tomahawks the ball out from Demry Croft; Hudson tackles for loss like seven more times.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

Quinn Nordin misses another extra point. What's the deal man? #collegekickers? Let's not #collegekickers. Let's not do that at all.

Honorable mention: Nordin pushes a 49 yarder just wide; Peters is thundersacked on third down on consecutive third quarter drives; Minnesota has a legitimate touchdown drive; rush is stopped for three yards. Hudson doesn't block that punt.

[After THE JUMP: oh also a defense]