The #11 Michigan team will face #9 Minnesota in Minneapolis Saturday night (8pmET). The game will be streamed live over the BigTenNetwork.com's new video player. This will be Michigan's first appearance on the new video player, and should be a solid matchup. The cost will be $2.99 (Note: $5 cheaper than the hockey game against BU, which is available through BU's SID for $7.95. BTN is a steal).
Also worth noting, this will be another game where the hosting team moves to a bigger arena (Williams Arena) in order to get a big crowd in against Michigan. Minnesota is expecting around 10k in attendance. That's awesome.
The Golden Gophers enter the game at 15-2 (pending the outcome Friday night at Michigan State), but they suffered a huge setback this week. Brook Dieter, a Second Team All-American last year and current leader in kills for the Gophers, spontaneously quit the team earlier in the week. Not much is really known on what happened. The team captain Gibbemeyer mentioned "personal reasons," while coach Herbert claims it was a "earning playing time" issue. Either way, Dieter and senior setter Carico were both benched against Northwestern last weekend. It sounds like Carico, who is second in the BigTen in assists, should be back in the starting rotation by this weekend.
Taking the place of Dieter is junior Hailey Cowles, a defensive player turned outside hitter. This move makes no sense to me having not seen the Gophers very much, but while reading through some of the comments on those Dieter articles, it doesn't sound like it makes much sense to some of the more informed commenters:
Do you really believe that replacing Brook Dieter (hitting at a pretty good, but not outstanding 0.250 pace) with Hailey Cowles (hitting at an astonishing 0.061 pace) at left side hitter will improve the team? I consider this incident a train wreck [compared to their women's basketball team with a similar experience a few years ago] - dmhopstock
I would guess that Cowles as the OH will not last. Soon, Wilson will move to OH and Harms will play OPP. As good an all-around player as Cowles is, she is not tall/long enough to be successful against premier teams. She will return to her DS position and Harms' athleticism will shine. - fahningm
They sound like they have a decent idea of what's going on, but they are just commenters on a newspaper website, so take it FWIW.
Minnesota definitely looks vulnerable. They were swept by Penn State and Illinois in consecutive games before handling a weak Northwestern team 3 sets to 1 over their last three games.
Michigan will definitely try to test Cowles as Michigan will have a height advantage for perhaps the first time all season. Cowles is 5'10", perhaps the shortest outside hitter we've faced in the BigTen so far. Dieter was one of Minnesota's better blockers with .64 blocks per set (10 solos and 31 assists). That'll be a huge loss for the Gophers.
Add that Michigan is coming off their best defensive game in a while, this loss of Dieter could be huge. Donhoff had a great game against State, which probably went unnoticed by most casual observers. It helped that our block had plenty of tips up. I really want to see that intensity at the net happen in this game as well.
Here's where things start to get dicey for Michigan. In the middle of the last game, Lexi Zimmerman dislocated her thumb. She was playing with obvious pain, and she was sporting a hand brace. While she finished the game against State, we'll have to see how much she plays over the next few games. Most dislocations take a few weeks to fully heal, and really bad ones can knock a player out for 2-3 weeks.
I imagine if had been that bad, the trainers wouldn't have let Lexi play, no matter how much her game day adrenaline would have allowed Lexi to keep going. I'm expecting to see Lexi start, but at the first sign of aggravation, I wouldn't be surprised to see Yager enter the game.
Yager is expected to be a great setter by the time she makes the starting lineup. She was ranked #41 overall in the nation by volleyballprep.com in last year's volleyball recruiting class.
Yager made a brief appearance in the game on Wednesday, but you could tell she was just a freshman setting. Her sets weren't nearly as quick or crisp as Lexi's, and it allowed State to get a few points Michigan probably wouldn't have given up. That said, Lexi made a few bad sets due to the thumb. It'll be interesting to see who plays how much and how well.
I kind of like the one I did for Michigan State. It's not perfect, and I'm still trying to figure out what I call a push versus a true advantage, especially with Aces per Game versus Server Reception Errors per Game (SR Errors/Game) or Attack Percentage versus Blocks per Game. Bear with me. Comments on how to improve it are welcome.
|Aces/Game||1.7||SR Errors/Game||0.9||MICH||SR Errors/Game||0.6||PUSH|
|Serve Errors/Game||2.73||Serve Errors/Game||1.64||MINN||Serve Errors/Game||1.24||MINN|
|Passing Errors||18||Passing Errors||12||MINN||Passing Errors||10||MINN|
|AVG Oppo RPI||68.1||AVG Oppo RPI**||63.9||PUSH||-||-||-|
- *Doesn't include Friday against MSU
- **Doesn't include MSU's RPI, which being around #18, will help weight it down to ~61.6 average opponent RPI
So with Dieter, I would have given the edge to Minnesota in just statistics, not to mention the home court advantage. With Dieter out of the lineup, Michigan picks up quite a few more matchups. That's a big drop in kills/game and even digs/game. I think the backups will be able to handle the digs, so that may not be such a big advantage for Michigan, but the kills… that'll hopefully be the game breaker.
Some of the ones Michigan still losses are also deceiving, such as service errors per game and attack percentage as Minnesota removed about 1/5 to 1/4 of their attempts on the season, inflating the overall totals. I don't think you can just assume that the backups will produce nearly as well as Dieter.
I'm liking our chances to get a big road win, but I'm in no way confident enough to pick an outright win. I could see this game going any number of different ways. If I had to buckle down and guess, though, I see Michigan victorious in 4 sets.
The match begins at 8ET (7pm local), so for those interested and with $3 to spare, check out the BTN.com. It should still be a good one.
(all pictures from MGoBlue.com)