Saturday, December 31, 2011

They Come And They Go, Hobbs

"It's really hard to put into words truly what this season meant and truly what we've been through because, frankly, I don't think there's many people in this room -- in the country -- that understand."

"Unless you've been a fifth-year senior here, you don't know. You didn't live it, you didn't feel it, you didn't see the pain, you didn't hear the anguish, you didn't hear the hate. There was a time we got booed by you guys, and that hurts."

"But the reality is, this is Michigan. We come back, and we never stop. We're a team that recovers, we're at team that continues and there's nothing that can stop Michigan -- absolutely nothing in the world.

"There's no defense, there's no offense, there's no other team, no Ohio State, no Michigan State -- there's no other team in the country that can stop us, and that's why I came here to Michigan.

"Most of all, I want to thank these guys -- both sides of me. They are Michigan men. This is the reason I came here. I wanted to share a stage with you guys, and I'm glad I did."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Michigan-Penn State: Search and Destroy

Michigan 71, Penn State 53

The theme of Tim's night from the field

After a ho-hum non-conference slate that saw Michigan make people intermittently excited and worried about the rest of the season, the conference schedule began tonight against a struggling Penn State squad in the friendly confines of Crisler Arena the Crisler Center. Penn State after making the tournament last season, figures to be one of the worst teams in the conference this year. Tim Frazier is a very nice player (17.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 7.2 apg), and has done a very nice job replacing Talor Battle's outgoing production; unfortunately, other departures--such as Jeff Brooks and his 13 ppg--have not been replaced as adequately. As such, if this was an MGoBlog football preview, this game would be at least an 8 on the "need to win" scale. A loss at home to what seems to be the worst team in the conference would have been nothing short of disastrous. In his non-conference rundown of all B1G squads, Dylan at UMHoops summarized PSU in a manner that reminds me of 2007-08 Michigan basketball: 

Penn State’s offense, centered around Tim Frazier, is the worst in the league and its average defense isn’t enough to save it.
Thankfully, the Wolverines took care of business in front of what I imagined to be a depleted home crowd (at least the student section, which seemed full but only approximately 10% MAIZED OUT). Missing Michigan-Penn State to go home and see their families? I guess some students just don't get it. 

In any case, it was as smashing a victory as one could expect and the halftime entertainment was apparently a Quick Change performance. REAL GOOD TIME, indeed.

Michigan came out in the first half and shot threes early and often with very little success. Luckily for the Wolverines, the Penn State offense was about as anemic as the Penn State football team's. Despite reading all the scouting reports and looking over the stats, there's always a little bit of doubt with respect to how bad a team may or may not be, and with Michigan sort of struggling against some who dat non-conference opponents, no one can be taken lightly. In this case, Penn State's reputation of being mostly "total garbage" was actually true. Other than Frazier, who isn't much of an outside shooter, the Nittany Lions couldn't do much but hope to GRIT their way to some garbage points via offensive rebounds. Sorry guys, but Zack Novak is on our side, and there's only room for one TRUE GRIT in this town.

Michigan went up by 14 (36-22) at the half and more things happened in the second...but nothing of note that can't be mentioned in the section below. You know that you're not doing so hot when you're down 20 with a few minutes to go and the commentators are talking about how hard you tried, even tossing in the word "grit" in that euphemistic verbiage salad. With that, Michigan goes to 11-2, with the next outing coming on New Year's Day against the Gophers. Unfortunately, I'll be on the road to NOLA so I won't be able to watch and thus won't able to write a post on it. So, to the notes. 

Players Notes, Also Known As "Trey Burke and Those Who Are Not Trey Burke":
  • Burke--Another rough night from the field, going 3/11 (and an abysmal 1/7 from 3), but he still notched a solid 13 on the back of a 7/7 showing from the charity stripe. Additionally, it's hard to complain when your freshman point guard puts up 7 assists to zero turnovers. Penn State isn't a squad of defensive ninjas like say, a Purdue is, but it's encouraging to see your point take care of the ball to that extent, even if it is against probably the worst team in the league. 
  • Hardaway--As the hockey guys say, HOLY JUMPIN'. Glad I picked Tim in UMHoops' Pick To Click challenge. The story if his game is told by his shooting splits (from 2 and 3): he shot an almost perfect 10/11 from 2 and 1/7 from 3. In any case, Tim continues to showcase new moves and ways of getting to the basket. Last game he executed a nice little euro step tonight he had a nice drive to his left and a spin back right for a bank from around 10-12 feet. He also had a Magic-esque running hook through the lane, which good luck stopping that shot B1G defenders. He was also superbly set up by Smotrcyz on a couple backdoors in the second half, but overall this was by far his best game of the season for the simple fact that he was the aggressive slasher/2-point finisher that we all know he can be. He dropped 26 in this one so imagine what he'll start to do once he finds his shot from beyond the arc. 
  • Novak--A run-of-the-mill gritfest for True Grit. Despite only 7 points, a 4:1 assist:turnover, 4 boards, a steal, and a block make for another Swiss Army knife of a stat line for Zack. He continued his with-the-ball improvements, posting up (!) a PSU defender, backing him down like MJ backing down John Starks or some other such scrub, and executing a flawless fadeaway jumper. Yes, I am talking about Zack Novak. Fadeaway jumper. Zack Novak. Not MJ. 
  • Smotrycz--Only 2/4 from three...keep that up and you'll find yourself in St. Saban's Memorial Dubious Injury Infirmary, son. But seriously, another solid game for The Smoshtrycz despite not filling it up a la the last few games. Two assists to Hardaway late in the second half were particularly impressive, but 3 TOs indicates that ball security will likely continue to be an issue. Had the ball in the open floor near mid-court in the first half and attempted a one-handed pass that resulted in a turnover...I'm sure he got an earful from Beilein after that one. Otherwise, did have a nice strong take (no, not the Jim Rome STRONG TAKE kind) from the 3-point line to draw a block call. He seems to be able to do that sort of thing. He can take the ball from the arc and go to the basket with success, but once he starts to dribble for an extended period of time, with his back to the basket in the post or elsewhere, things start to get dicey. 
  • Morgan--A pretty unsatisfying performance for Morgan, only scoring 2 points. He couldn't finish on a nice feed once, and awkwardly traveled around the basket another time. A little bit disappointing after a great second half against Bradley, but it's not a huge deal given the final score and productivity of other players. However, Michigan absolutely needs more from Morgan, and it probably starts with him attempting more than 4 field goals, but he does need to be a little stronger around the basket. I can live with him getting his shot blocked but there are times when he gets the ball and should at minimum draw a foul but doesn't. 
  • Douglass--Seven points on 2/6 shooting from 3; had an attempted dunk--still a hilarious concept despite it having already lost its novelty--that he couldn't finish but did send him to the line. 
  • Vogrich--Took a charge (again...the GRIT, it's spreading), also made two threes from pretty much Ypsilanti. With the way Smotrycz is shooting and Vogrich's ability to knock it in from NBA range, you've got to think that driving lanes will be there for Hardaway and Burke like running lanes were for the A-Train. Vogrich's shooting percentage still isn't good, obviously, but this would be a good time to start to turn it on. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Michigan-Bradley: Onward and Upward

Michigan 77, Bradley 66

Michigan looked to finished out the non-conference schedule in as drama-free a manner as possible. They came away with the win and the game was actually fairly exciting, which, considering the opponent, is sort of the problem. The Wolverines took on a 5-6 Bradley team--Bradley, an entity doubling as a university as well as, potentially, an anonymous generic dude living down the hall from you in West Quad--in one last contest before the Big Ten schedule began. Michigan pulled away with about 8 minutes left in the game, but everything till that point was essentially an outline of the strengths and weaknesses of this time in one overt archetypic package. 

Michigan got killed on the boards as we trotted out positively Lilliputian lineups (even more so than usual). I think this team misses Horford in the interior I little more than we know. Additionally, the fact that most of Bradley's points were unassisted indicates a some lacking on-the-ball defense, which, given our general lack of athleticism, is understandable but not encouraging. At the same time, Bradley players were often reckless or out of control in their 1-on-1 game, so I guess it evens out. 

The first half didn't exactly go as planned. Michigan shot the ball well early on, but eventually cooled off, especially after Bradley went to the zone with 6 or so minutes left in the half. Michigan was quite simply dominated on the boards, giving Bradley a number of second chances that negated the Braves' pedestrian shooting percentages. As such, Bradley was able to keep pace despite not assisting for field goals nearly as much as the Wolverines, and a very deep three from Brown sent the two teams tied at the half, 33-33. Michigan was 12/34 from the field and 7/18 from 3, with very little inside game to speak of. Jordan Morgan had two points at the half. 

Thankfully, the Wolverines began to involve Morgan, leading to several high-percentage shots that started to blow the game open. Morgan's 13 second half points were essentially what allowed the Wolverines to leave the pesky Braves in the dust. A pair of dunks by Morgan and Hardaway (the latter on a nice lob from Stu) got the crowd going and put the game away. Michigan shot well from outside, but it seemed that Michigan's best option--as Beilein et al asserted during BTN's halftime peek into the Michigan locker room--was the fast break/pushing the ball. That's not to say that Michigan's half court game is Memphis-esque or anything, but with a guy like Burke running the show, not running is like putting Denard under center with regularity. 

Aside from the game, listening to Gus Johnson and the two live looks into the locker room were pretty great (if you were at the game or unable to watch, it's definitely worth watching for these two things alone). Watching Bacari Alexander motivate the team before the game by wrapping tape around them as part of a teamwork talking point was priceless. Also, hearing Beilein talk about actual basketball stuff and using actual basketball verbiage was interesting and I wish this sort of thing was shown more often. 

As for the Gus-isms...they were flowing indeed: 
  • "Shayok Shayok!" This was said maybe 50 times. 
  • The always classic "Ha haaaa!" after Shayok gets an "and 1" opportunity.
  • Lastly, this, upon Michigan going up by 15: "Wolverines poppin' their collars now!" GAME BLOUSES, BRADLEY. 

Player Notes, Also Known As "Trey Burke And Those Who Are Not Trey Burke": 

  • Burke--Trey struggled a bit from the field (5/13 overall, 1/7 from 3), but he still managed to score 12 and drop 8 assists to one turnover. Of course he is not him, but, as a Bulls fan, watching Burke accelerate down the court continues to remind me of Derrick Rose. The sequence in the first half--after Bradley had briefly taken the lead 26-25--comes to mind. Trey blocked a shot and accelerated to get the ball and take it the other way for a layup. It truly is a treat to watch. 
  • Hardaway--It was clear that Tim was trying to find his shot early, taking 3 threes and a 2 within the first 5 minutes or so. He, like Burke, also struggled from three, going 2/9. However, 16 points and an 5 assists to zero turnovers is a solid game, outside shooting notwithstanding. Nine threes is a few too many, but I'd rather he shoot than not. Showed a nice aggressive "euro move" in the first half. 
  • Smotrycz--Simply on fire from outside. The Smoshtrycz came into the game shooting a torrid 55% from 3-point land, and he only upped that percentage by going 5/7 in this one. He tied his career high of 20 points, and also broke the string of almost double-doubles by snatching 10 boards. He has to cool off eventually, but we can only hope that he can continue to shoot the lights out at this pace. 
  • Novak--A gritty 11 points for True Grit tonight. Also continues to drop dimes at a surprisingly high rate, with 4 more in this one (although 2 turnovers make the ratio not as sterling as the past 3 games). Again showed off his newfound handles with a nice take that saw him power through a defender into a jump stop and an 8-9 foot bank shot. 
  • Morgan--Two different players from the 1st half to the 2nd. After getting blocked twice on the opening possession, he was essentially invisible the rest of the first half. In the second, missed missed a few shots against the zone and then decided to get Morgan involved. He was aggressive, and although many of his points come as the result of being the benefactor of top notch point play (whether from Morris last year or Burke this year), the majority of his baskets in this game were the result of hard work. 
  • Douglass--A quiet game, yet somehow played 33 minutes. Only three points, but again, scoring is not a huge issue as long as he's playing defense and doing other things, like notching a 6:1 assist to turnover ratio.
  • Vogrich--Took a charge (the GRIT, it's spreading), 0/2 from the field. 
  • McLimans-Only three minutes...despite being insanely tall, got shot blocked once from what I remember. 
  • Brundidge--A few nondescript minutes halfway through the first half; drove for a mid-range shot that got blocked from behind. We're going to need a little more from somebody if Trey's going to keep playing 37+ minutes, but that somebody doesn't appear to be Brundidge right now.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Michigan-Alabama A&M: All Over But The Shoutin'

Michigan 87, Alabama A&M 57

Before the day of glorious bottom-tier bowl games began, Michigan took on the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, who hail from my former hometown, the sprawling metropolis that is Huntsville, AL. They came into the game with an 2-3 record, their closest loss being a 9-point defeat at the hands of Tulane (their other two losses were smashing defeats against fellow Yellowhammer State opponents, South Alabama and Alabama). One of their 2 wins came against "Talladega," which I'm convinced is simply a roving band of Talladega Superspeedway-goers looking for something to occupy their time until the next race.

This wasn't a very good basketball team. I'm not sure if it's quite on the level of the 2009 Michigan-Delaware State game in the Big House as far as tomato cans go, but it's not a game you'd write home about either way. Obviously. But, with the Sugar Bowl still a ways away, I'll take any form of Michigan sports and I will not complain. 

Michigan took care of business against the Golden Lions despite stretches of reckless and/or lackadaisical play. However, with these types of games, as long as nobody gets hurt and you're not sweating it out in the final seconds, it's all good. If the game is in the final minute and your overmatched opponent isn't trying to foul, you've probably done enough to put the "sky is falling" rhetoric on ice until the next game.

Like APB, the Bulldogs played hard with great TOUGHNESS for 40 minutes but were simply unable to account for Burke's ability to create and Michigan's perimeter shooting, which was tremendous (45.5% from 3). This was pretty much what the APB should've looked like. Michigan didn't really seem to play all that well in the first half, yet still went into the break with a 41-27 lead. Coming out of the half, Michigan unleashed the 1-3-1 on A&M, resulting in a Morgan charge call; from that point forward it was all over but the shoutin'. Five minutes or so into the second half, the Wolverines found themselves up 25. Michigan is still turning the ball over a little too much, but that will improve with time as the level of competition forces the level of play into a certain pared down mode (see "B1G-ball"). In the end, as Bo would say, it was a smashing victory. 

And yes, for the second game in a row I think some band respect is due..feel free to let the following sound dramatically in the background as you read through this recap of the most obviously critical game in Michigan's season:

Player Notes, Also Known As "Trey Burke and Those Who Are Not Trey Burke": 

  • Burke--Man, that crossover behind the back dribble three pointer was something. Not to tear Darius Morris down, but I don't think that's a thing that he had in his arsenal, as great as he was. Burke lead the Wolverines with 19 points on 6/10 shooting (3/3 from 3). Also, despite being in the game with about 5 minutes to go for some reason, he "only" logged 30 minutes, which is good. Then again, with only two games between now and New Year's Day, it's reasonable for Beilein to feel comfortable giving Burke and others these minutes. 
  • Hardaway--Still trying to find his game a little bit, but when you score 13 points and people are still thinking of even slightly negative things to say, you know the expectations are pretty high. If Smotrycz can continue to be a reliable third option and Hardaway plays like we all know we can, this team will seriously challenge for a conference title, even without much of an inside game. 
  • Novak--True Grit got a little Hollywood on us this afternoon, doin' some fancy dribblin' and whatnot. Again, Novak's ability with the ball in his hands is the biggest improvement in this team other than the outside shooting from the 1 spot. Yes, it's A&M but Novak wasn't really ever able to use the dribble for any purpose before this year, even against cupcake opponents with lower level athletes. the one play where Novak took it coast to coast, hesitating for a split second at the three point line before blowing by the defender to the hoop for an easy layup, was amazing. Plus, he continues to utilize the dribble to effectively set-up his mid-range game. These are the types of things that are developed by years of practice and technical coaching that lead, eventually, to having the confidence to try and execute these skills in a game. Also, a 4:0 assist to turnover ratio continues his streak of sparkling assist to turnover ratios. 
  • Smotrycz--After a pair of almost double-doubles, The Smoshtrycz finally got one today, dropping 17 points and 11 rebounds. He even grabbed 3 steals, doing all of this in a mere 22 minutes of playing time. The Smoshtrycz is slowly but surely evolving from X-factor to reliable contributor. He's obviously not there yet based on three games against Oakland, APB, and Alabama A&M, but the progress is obvious. Only negative continues to be turnovers; he had 3 in this one. 
  • Morgan--Morgan is Morgan...he'll get set up for some layups/dunks and grab some garbage points or he won't. He ended the game with 6 points, although early foul trouble yet again cut into his minutes. 
  • Douglass--A solid game off the bench; 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and no turnovers is a good stat line for him. 
  • Vogrich--Took a couple of threes, missed them both. Did have four rebounds...he's only averaging 1 a game but every time I watch I feel like he's grabbing a few more than that despite being Matt Vogrich. 
  • McLimans--Got a haircut. Had a nice tip in for 2. Also had two blocks...he is tall. 
  • Akunne--AKUNNE MATATA...sorry, had to. Five points for Eso, a veritable offensive explosion. 
  • Brundidge--Got a solid chunk of playing time today (13 minutes); 3 points, 2 boards, and an assist for the freshman. It's still way too early to make any predictions about his career. Was called "thick" by Eric Collins, which would be good if you're a Wisconsin tailback and not a guard of the basketball variety. I'd like to see more of him against Bradley and even PSU if possible. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Michigan-Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Taking Care Of Business

Michigan 63, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 50 
This is a post about a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff*; if you choose not to read it (and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't) here is a random video of APB's band "battling" Jackson State's that is probably just as worthy of your time. 

After experiencing the horrors of radio-based sports consumption on Saturday, ESPNU kindly allowed me to watch this crucial early December matchup. Michigan took on Arkansas-Pine Bluff, its second opponent in a row sporting a mascot of the Golden, ferocious mammalian variety. As the Wolverines finished up the pre-game warmups and the stands were distinctly only somewhat full, it was hard not to get the feeling that this was all just practice for the intensity of basketball in March. The excitement was palpable, and Michigan players were chucking up bricks during pre-game warmups like Denard overthrows first quarter screens out of sheer nerves and a relentlessly overpowering excitability. 

Okay, that's enough of that. After the Golden Lions jumped out to a 6-5 lead, Michigan went on a 19-0 run and the game was essentially over. The Lions are a bad team from the worst conference in America and it showed. The only Lion to really show some skill was guard Lazabian Jackson**, who lit Michigan up from outside, going 6/11 from three, including a few impressive makes from a few feet behind the line. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat and say "nice shot." APB scored 27 non-Jackson produced points, so overall its hard to complain too much; 27 points plus 23 from a guy shooting the lights out from NBA range makes for a solid night on that end.

Despite the lack of talent, the Lions competed admirably and Michigan continued to turn the ball over with regularity, resulting in a somewhat underwhelming 13-point win. The decisiveness of the victory isn't necessarily that important, but you would've liked to see a little better play and a little less carelessness with the ball, which is starting to become a bit of an issue. Nineteen turnovers in this one and 17 against Oakland...not so good. Burke is a freshman and the primary ball handler so I can live with his mistakes, but guys like The Smoshtrycz need to cut back on the turnovers. There won't be much margin for error this season in the conference schedule, and it's not hard to imagine a bad loss via ALL THE TURNOVERS at the hands of an Iowa or a Penn State, potentially doing some dastardly things to Michigan's tournament resume. Just repeat "this is a young team" ad infinitum and you should be okay.

At the same time, APB's own hilariously sloppy play contributed to the overall pace (or lack thereof) of the game to a certain extent. I thought that Michigan might put up 70 or even 80 last night but a choppy, sluggish end to the first half (other than the buzzer beater, of course) and a generally meh second half resulted in a paltry 63. UNACCEPTABLE (but not really).

The turnovers and the lack of an inside game are disconcerting, but we've known about the latter for quite a while now so it isn't exactly much of a surprise when we can't really go through the post for offense, even against a team like APB. We are who we are and that's that. Once again, come on down Mitch McGary.

**I don't know what his recruiting profile looked like but he should've been a 5-star based on name alone. Lazabian Jackson, coming to a college basketball venue near you to make ALL THE THREES.

Player Bullets: 

  • Burke--After an outstanding first half (ending on a 3-point buzzer beater), his production tailed off in the second, although not for lack of usage. He missed some solid looks and couldn't connect on that patented tear drop in the lane, so it's not like he wasn't getting good chances. In any case, another solid game from a guy who continues to exceed his years every time he steps on the court. I haven't been able to watch all that much college ball other than Michigan outside of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and a smattering of games here and there, but I'd imagine that Burke's speed and ability to find the open man--whether on the perimeter or Morgan in the paint--has to put him in the discussion, at some level, for best point guards in the country. Again, it is a little bit concerning that Beilein wasn't able to put him out there for less than 37 minutes against a team like APB, but thus far he's proven that he can handle it. 
  • Hardaway--Another relatively quiet performance, although he only played 19 minutes so whatever. Tim went 3/6 from the field (2/4 from three), and it seemed early on that Michigan was actively trying to get him involved by running him off of screens and such. He took a bit of a tumble in the first half while contesting a three but he did return and seemed to be okay. In any case, this type of thing is more reason to find ways to limit some guys' minutes, namely him and Trey, in the next two games. 
  • Smotrycz--The Smoshtrycz chipped in a team high 16, as well as eight boards, in his second almost-double-double in a row. However, the old Smotrycz reared his head a little bit, committing five of Michigan's 19 turnovers. Did turn it over once on the block while trying to make a move of some sort; again, that part of his game is still a work in progress. 
  • Novak--Zack just Novak'd around, as usual. While his offensive production has seemed to have taken a slight dive of late, he's made up for it in the last two games by dropping dimes more than anybody on the team save Burke; an 8:1 and 6:1 assist to turnover ratios against Oakland and APB respectively is not half bad. Perhaps the most underrated improvement in this team is Novak's ability to do things with the ball in his hands. He seems to have some added confidence in taking a purposeful dribble or two into the lane to set up his mid-range game, which has evolved from being basically non-existent to the pleasant surprise it has been thus far. He had one very impressive take where he split a pair of defenders and used jump stop to propel himself into the lane and draw the defense enough to find an open McLimans at the opposite block. As usual, he did take at least one charge. 
  • Morgan--A very quiet night for Morgan, only attempting two field goals (his one bucket was a nice little hook shot off of a rebound). 
  • Vogrich--A very solid game for Vogrich. He hit a few threes despite entering the game having gone 1/13 from outside going into the game. He was also active elsewhere, chipping in three offensive rebounds and a couple steals; anything outside of production from 3-point land is gravy. 
  • McLimans--Logged 11 minutes after getting 6 and 1 in the last two games. Set a crushing pick right before the half to free Burke for that buzzer beater; after seeing that, maybe we should hand him over to Barwis Wellman and see if we can't turn him into a solid replacement for Mark Huyge on the right side of the offensive line. /bad cross-sports jokes
  • Douglass--Missed a few very good looks from three. I guess as long as either him or Vogrich are on from outside in any given game then we'll be alright. Last game it was Stu chipping in the double-digit bench points, this game it was Vogrich. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Consider the Smoshtrycz, 12/12/2011

Unseen Things: So, due to the lameness of not living in Michigan/ESPN3, I was not able to actually watch the Oakland game. I did listen to it via MGoBlue audio, which brings me to why I'm giving a game that I wasn't able to actually watch its own section. From the very beginning until the very end, the guy doing the audio kept referring to an "Evan Smoshtrycz," and based on the box score and the flow of the game, this guy is pretty good. Whoever recruited this fellow/allowed him to play basketball with human beings... awesome. Evan Smoshtrycz is seen above, running the floor/savannah and exceeding expectations. Yes, the mispronunciation was a flimsy excuse to post the above but it's there and what's done is done. 

I'm not going to attempt to dissect a game I didn't watch, but a few things: 
  • This was Hardaway's second sluggish start in the past three games. Hopefully this doesn't become a trend.
  • When Stu Douglass dunks a basketball, flawless victory is assured. Interesting that Vogrich came off the bench before Stu, but with the latter dropping 13 and just being capable of doing more things than Vogrich, I don't think that's significant. 
  • On a serious note, it's nice to see Smotrycz starting to put it together. I've talked about how I think he could be a real good player for us once he learns what he can and can't do and slows down a little bit when he's trying to make something happen with the ball in his hands. Twenty points, nine rebounds, and not fouling out is not a bad day for a 90% ostrich, 10% man (okay I'm done). As Rod Beard notes, Smotrycz is the definitive X-factor. If he can continue to chip in at least 8-10 points, an appropriate number of boards, and not kill his game via excessive fouling, then that is a fine player we've got there complementing Burke and Hardaway. 
  • Looks like Akunne missed his first shot of the year...UNACCEPTABLE. 
  • Burke, awesome once again; 38 minutes played in this one, though, is not so awesome. 
  • Another quiet outing offensively for Zach "True Grit" Novak but in place of scoring points he was all like "hey guys, how about an 8:1 assist to turnover ratio?" and everyone was like "yeah, that sounds cool." So, he did that.
  • The Wolverines absolutely shot the lights out in the second half, edging the Golden Grizzlies by 10 in the second half; if it wasn't for a ridiculous run by Oakland in the first half, Michigan probably would've won by 15-20. Regardless, this was a solid win (or non-loss, I guess) and Michigan has the fortune of playing a few cupcakes before the Big Ten schedule begins. Michigan takes on Arkansas Pine-Bluff tomorrow at 7 ET on ESPNU. 
Familiar Territory: On the heels of a shaky performance against Braxton Miller, the secondary looks to bounce back against Logan Thomas and the Hokies. Coach Hoke speaks to the aforementioned performance: 

"That’s alarming," Hoke said. "(Virginia Tech's) quarterback has ... (29) touchdowns this year. They’re very good at what they do, and we have to be tighter in coverage. We have to be better in zone. All those things are part of it.”
I'm in the process of watching the Clemson game again (due to it being on at the same time as the B1G Title Game, I wasn't able to the first time around), but for now I'll say that although VT has played a pretty weak schedule, Logan Thomas is the real deal. I've referred to him as the Dollar Tree version of Cam Newton before, and I still think that to be the case. In addition to the dynamic David Wilson, VT skill's players at these two positions are at least as good as Ohio State's, and at quarterback Thomas is certainly more dangerous at this point in his career. I'll have to watch some of the game footage that MGoVideo has so conveniently put it to get a feel for the quality of the OL and wideouts; I would guess that the overall talent of these position groups lags behind that of Ohio State's respective groups, but I'll have to see for myself. 

On the flip side, I don't think Michigan/Mattison will be as susceptible to being surprised by the opposing offense's capabilities like they were against Ohio State and Bollman's surprisingly aggressive game plan. So, there's that. 

Norm Parker Retires: As you probably already know by now, long time Iowa DC Norm Parker is retiring; this is a big deal for the Iowa program, and I'm not really sure that they can replace a guy like that. Although Iowa's defense was fairly average in most statistical categories this year (42nd in scoring defense, 68th in total defense), Iowa has thrived for years on that side of the ball with seemingly very little talent and an ability to turn people like "Tyler Sash" into above average college safeties. Every year when you sit down to read a preview of the Iowa game, you'd be liable to find the same widely distributed sentiments vis-a-vis Iowa's defense. You know what they're going to do. They do what they do. They don't blitz. They do what they do regardless of the circumstances. Seriously, they don't blitz. 

You always think these things will end up being in your favor, but, much of the time that has not been the case. There's something to be said for picking one thing and doing it very well. It gives a program a certain identity that allows it to say "this is what we do" and have recruits know it. With Parker's departure, I have a hard time seeing Iowa not continuing to decline as that 2009 Orange Bowl-capping season continues to get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Ferentz is locked in at Iowa through 2015, but that won't quiet the Ferentz to the NFL chatter. I doubt he goes anywhere; he's getting paid a ridiculous amount of money at a place where he won't get fired after a couple of bad years like he would in the NFL. As much as his coaching persona fits in the NFL, he'll stay IME. 

You're Hurt, I'm Hurt, Everybody's Hurt!: Rothstein on Woolfolk and JT bonding while injured. It is oh so fluffy but that's not always a bad thing: 

His parents bought him a recliner, one he sat in on Nov. 6, 2010 -- the day after surgery -- watching the Wolverines play Illinois in Michigan Stadium and was close to tears.
Floyd watched the rest of Michigan's regular season games in 2010 from that recliner, fighting his emotions each Saturday and often texting Woolfolk because the players who were likely to comprise half of the Wolverines' starting defensive backfield last season couldn't drive the 20 minutes they lived from each other to watch games together.

One of my first memories of Woolfolk on the field was against Eastern Michigan; it was late in the game and I think he got burned for a touchdown (it didn't matter because the game was already put away). I was a freshman and so was he. I don't think either of us expected what would happen the next few years. I'm glad that I'm going to be able to watch his last game as a Wolverine in NOLA this January; it's been a bumpy ride but I think he'd tell you that it was all worth it in the end. 

Mo' Money Mo' Problems: As a result of Michigan's Sugar Bowl berth, Brady Hoke is getting some extra money. This is all well and good, but given who Brady Hoke is and the bowl that we are going to be playing in, I feel that a pile of sugar would've been a much more appropriate bonus: 

No, this will absolutely not be the last time this appears before the bowl game. 

More? Couple of Michigan honorable mentions in Pro Football Weekly's All-American Team. Jim McElwain, Alabama OC, gets the Colorado State coaching, when was the last time they were relevant? By the way, thanks for Caleb Hanie, Colorado State. Thanks. Auburn tailback/only good thing about 2011 Auburn football Michael Dyer is suspended for the bowl game against UVA; adjust your bowl challenge pick 'ems accordingly. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

There's Injured and There's Hurt, 12/9/2011

Things That Have Been Called Boo-Boos That Aren't: Denard's inability to not throw like he's Taylor Martinez early on in the season can in part be explained by the fact that his boo-boo was actually a staph infection. In addition, the "myriad injuries" part confirms that the few times where I blasphemously thought that maybe Denard had lost a step were not necessarily unfounded concerns because, you know, he was hurt.

I'm no doctor, but staph infections conjure up vague notions of unpleasantness, and it's not hard to imagine it affecting his play. As if you needed an more reasons to love Denard, he is a TOUGH football player with lots of TOUGHNESS and GRIT. THIS GUY'S ARM WAS FALLING OFF BUT HE JUST KEPT PUSHIN', THE WANT TO IN THIS GUY IS JUST UNBELIEVABLE. I'LL TELL YOU WHAT, I'D LOVE TO HAVE 22 DENARD ROBINSONS ON MY FOOTBALL TEAM. Jon Gruden hasn't said this yet but can you imagine him saying it? I sure can. And people say Denard's NFL prospects as a QB are bleak.

But seriously, after last season a lot of people were left wondering whether or not Denard could survive another season. He can partly thank Fitz for his durability this season, but Denard is simply a pound-for-pound TOUGH human being a la Vincent Smith.

Stand(ifer) Down*: Michigan loses its commitment from Anthony Standifer, as tweeted by Allen Trieu yesterday. Grades seem to be the reason per the Internets, which is a shame if true. It's always tough losing a commitment, particularly one that goes to the same school as 2013 target Laquon Treadwell. His offer list isn't outrageously great (basically us, ND, Iowa, and assorted mediocrity plus Boise State) but at the same time, Michigan is one of them and trust the coaches &c. Come on down Armani Reeves and Yuri Wright.

*I'll show myself the door.

Rich "Uncle Rico" Rodriguez: When Coach Rod said that he would've gone 10-2 this year if he was still around, my first thoughts were: 1) Would GERG still be around in this hypothetical scenario? 2) I could see 10-2 as a best-case but 9-3 or even 8-4 are probably more likely if we're conjecturing baselessly here (and we are) 3) Coach, why would you ever agree to do The Huge Show/answer a question like that with anything other than mind-numbing coachspeak? and 4) I give you the below*.
Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind. 

*Just FWIW; that is a joke. There were very few people as pro-RR as I, and what RR said wasn't really that bad either in or out of context.

Oakland (Not That Oakland): Michigan takes on the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (our most hated rival!) at the Palace of Auburn Hills tomorrow (4 ET). UMHoops has the usual preview and other assorted reading material. Oakland's three losses are to Alabama and Arkansas on the road and Ohio (not that Ohio...Ohio Ohio). Playing this sort of team is the kind of RPI-booster that teams want; high enough to be respectable as a tomato can but not enough to worry about defeat. The game recap should come up Sunday afternoon as I prepare to watch my Bears get Tebow'd. /cries

Heisman Stuff THIS IS SO IMPORTANT not really: Doctor Saturday on RGIII winning the Heisman. Okay, yes the Heisman is an inherently stupid award reflective of the BCS and its big name favoritism...but I can't help but be OUTRAGED if RGIII (2011 RGIII, aka 2012 Denard PLEASE) doesn't win it. How is this even a debate? Mel Kiper showed up on ESPN earlier expressing a preference for Trent Richardson, which, come on. Anybody picking Richardson for anything (including the Doak) is having one single un-ending thought process being coded out in their brain: SEC SEC SEC SEC SEC SEC SEC, and so on into oblivion. He hasn't even had the best season for a tailback, let alone overall. I know that he benches so much that the Bama S&C staff won't let him up his max because it would supposedly destroy the universe like he's dividing by zero, but come on guys. COME ON.

More? TACO TACO TACO TACO TACO. PAWWWLLLLLL I DON'T TRUST URBAN MEYER UP THERE WITH THAT SHADOW RECRUITING STAFF IT'S UH CONSPIRACEEEE PAWLLLLLL I'll hang up and lissen. I kind of want the NCAA to pull a David Stern and be like "No" to whatever school Dayne Crist decides to go to. As someone who lived in Alabama during the glorious reign of Mike Shula, all I have to say to this is LOL WHY? Um, insert How About No.jpg. Tim Beckman to Illinois; not sure how I feel about this yet. A really awesome AMA featuring Spencer Hall and LSUFreek...these things are always cool and especially so if you enjoy EDSBS and LSUFreek's brilliance, which you should as a college football watcher. Spencer professes a deep respect for MGoBlog more than once, which is pretty cool.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

HTR's End of Season Top 25

So I skipped this the last couple of weeks; whatever. In any case, regular season football is over and that's the worst (other than that time of the year when all we have is baseball--the horror), and even though an avalanche of mediocre to at-best-entertaining-but-still-relatively-soulless bowl games are on the way, I still can't help but think that this season has gone by faster than any other that I've experienced.

And yes, I know there are still bowl games so this isn't really the "end of season" ranking, but, you know, who cares (about the bowl games, that is). After the decision to have LSU-Bama Redux, it's really hard to take any of the folks in charge seriously (not that it wasn't difficult before). I've never considered not watching a college football national championship game before, and although I'm telling myself I won't watch this game (even though I probably will...after all, I'll probably watch every minute of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl fergodsakes), the fact that I'm even considering it is a new and strange thing. If this--as well as teams of various degrees of undeserving-ness getting BCS bowl berths--doesn't kickstart the anti-BCS Spring, I don't know what will. Everyone will be like Austin Powers, asking it "WHY WON'T YOU DIE?"

The Most Interesting Man In The World - i don't always rematch but when i do i prefer sec

Rankings (and various miscellaneous thoughts):

Oklahoma State 
Boise State
Virginia Tech
Michigan State
South Carolina
Kansas State
Southern Miss
West Virginia
Penn State
Notre Dame

--Yes, Oklahoma State at #2. Here is where I rail against SEC hypocrisy, voter stupidity, and the WWL. LSU-Alabama makes for THE BEST GAME, YOU GUYS, IT'S SCIENCE. 
/does "eyeball test"
//watches rematch, no touchdowns scored again 
///winners chant SEC, losers' heads explode, revealing all Alabama fans (oops...spoiler alert!) to be robots wired in such a way that maximizes overall unpleasantness

--So it turns out my complete lack of respect for Houston was valid; they played a team with a pulse and got dismantled. I'm glad that we're not playing them. 

--Kirk Cousins, your claims have some validity. Yes, the system is broken..we all agree on this. It's not about "fair" or "rational" or whatever else you or anybody else thinks it should be. Just sayin'. With that out of the way, the first B1G title game was pretty great, but I just wish it wasn't in a dome. Even so, how did these two fan bases not fill the place? Weird. Both title game participants have interesting bowl matchups; I think both stand a pretty good shot at winning, but I'd give State a better shot just because Wisconsin's hilariously slow defense is going to get shredded by Oregon's offensive attack (In a deleted scene, Jason Statham watches highlight videos of Oregon's offense on Youtube just to stay alive--it's true. Wisconsin's defense on the other hand=instant death.). 

--Official HTR Heisman Ballot: 1) RGIII 2) Honey Badger 3) Montee "Ball So Hard" Ball. Get out of here Trent Richardson and Andrew Luck, although one of you will surely win this award. 

--So we drew Virginia Tech and everybody is mad at the both of us even though we didn't do anything. Uh, sorry? But not really. I think we can take this team but Michigan is not yet (nor will ever be) at the point where a BCS bowl win should be considered a slam dunk proposition. Regardless, all of my tickets and such are booked and I CAN'T WAIT. 

--Everybody's firing everybody. Fresno State, you do realize you're Fresno State? Also, initiate/continue the Mr. Freeze jokes re: Ole Miss. What's that, we've been recruiting 824 people per class and still can't beat Louisiana Tech? EVERYBODY CHILL. 

--I just looked at a early season post like this and laughed. Ah, those were simpler times. It's been fun, 2011. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Michigan-Iowa State: Steele Jantz Isn't Walkin' Through That Door

Michigan 76, Iowa State 66

I went into this game thinking "How weird/sad is it that it's noon on a Saturday while football is being played elsewhere and I'm watching Michigan basketball?" Suspending my disbelief that the regular season is over for the duration of this post, I will say that Michigan needed this one or else, to quote Russell Peters, "somebody was gonna get a hurt real bad," where "somebody" here refers to Michigan's tournament chances. Fortunately, Michigan pulled it out as an at home 7-point favorite should. I donned a 2007-08 Michigan basketball shirt that I got via a t-shirt tossing as a freshman at a game against CMU (which we lost), laughing the whole time at how far we've come as a program since that miserable 10-22 season

Jordan Morgan started Michigan off with four straight points, after which the Cyclones went on a quick 8-0 run to take a 10-4 lead. Luckily for Michigan, Trey Burke was on from the outside; a couples three and a layup later and Michigan was back on top. It was a strange half; it didn't seem like Michigan was doing anything extraordinarily well, but I looked up and Michigan was up nine at the half. After not very long, Michigan blew it open in the second, and held a seemingly permanent 16-20 point lead until the final three or so minutes, where teams of Michigan's level usually allow the opponent back into the game just enough that you wouldn't dare change the channel in favor of the Southern Miss-Houston game. Iowa State's late run doesn't really concern me so much as the individual plays from Michigan's side that made it happen: turnovers (including one play where Royce White just sort of snatched the ball from Smotrycz as if it was a gift given to an unappreciative friend), a lack of rebounding, etc. In short, the symptoms of a young team with a big lead doing what a young team with a big lead does. 

Otherwise, the narrative really hasn't changed much. Michigan needed this one and got it; a loss would've been fairly disastrous, and Michigan put the outcome beyond doubt for approximately 95% of the game. That's good, particularly on the heels of a somewhat disappointing loss on the road in Charlottesville. Given the disparity between the pre-Maui and Maui and on Michigan, it's clear that this is a team that's still finding itself. When you look at the individual parts, this is even more obvious. Burke has been astonishingly poised and consistent for a freshman, despite being bottled up for the first time against UVA. The post-Morris version of Jordan Morgan is like the post-Braylon version of Henne...just trying to figure it all out, man. Hardaway is still trying to find a balance between outside shooting and getting to the basket/mid-range shots. Evan Smotrycz is talented but still seems like a teenager who grew half a foot overnight and it still getting used to his body. He is 20 so I guess that's technically almost true, but the added weight is taking some getting used to. He is improving; where as the idea of him putting the ball on the floor last year was a cringe-worthy concept, this year it's more of a 50-50 proposition. Horford is Horford, the consummate work-in-progress player. Douglass and Vogrich are trying to find their shots. 

The only negative takeaway from this game is that Royce White absolutely dominated us on the inside, adding one more data point to the unfortunate reality that we are not very big or athletic and will continue to get owned by big men with a pulse. I didn't know anything about him so I naturally gave him no respect (like I did UVA's Mike Scott, assuming he was just an athlete scoring garbage points); I was so wrong. The guy is sophomore but looks like he could be a power forward on a mediocre NBA team's roster, which says more about the athleticism of our bigs than it does him, probably. White looks like a quality player with some nice quicks for a big, but if we're going to get completely destroyed by dudes that play for Iowa State then we will have some issues against actual teams. 

This was likely Michigan's last real test--I hope?--until the conference slate begins; some of the aforementioned can be improved upon in an environment of limited competition. Some cannot be. Either way, a win's a win, and all the youth and room for improvement makes this an exciting team to watch. The process is almost as rewarding as the destination itself. EMBRACE THE PROCESS. 

/Ron English'd

Player Bullets:

  • Burke--Awesome. Seriously. I miss Morris's ability to get into the lane at will using his size but Burke's outside shooting and distribution is getting to be just as fun to watch. He will surely hit a rough patch or two at some point this season, but he seems to have the perfect demeanor to weather those storms. While Morris thrived on a sort of expletive-based verve, Burke is a cool customer. Both work, but the latter is particularly surprising for a freshman. The minutes he has been logging thus far is somewhat worrisome, however. I guess I'd have to go back and see what kinds of minutes Morris was getting last year (I'd imagine they were similar if not higher), but you'd imagine that Morris's body would be more capable of handling a long season, including a TOUGH Big Ten schedule. I actually didn't realize this until looking at the box score just now but apparently he went 3/11 from three, which: a) is not good and b) only in a Beilein offense can you shoot 11 threes and be okay. 
  • Hardaway--An encouraging performance after he was relatively invisible at UVA. It's well-known that his 3-point shot needs some work, and he tends to go to it a few times a game when you'd like to see another shot. In a basic sense, it was refreshing to see him actually get some shots up (then again, not being in foul trouble helps, doesn't it?). Putting up 19 after getting 5 in the last game is nice, although the similarly bad 2/7 from three isn't all that encouraging (a minor concern on this day, though). 
  • Novak--The grittiest man this side of the Mississippi had somewhat of a quiet day on the offensive end,  going 1/4 from the field (he did go 6/6 from the line). However, as usual his gritty ways propelled him to excellence in other portions of his stat line, namely rebounds, of which he grabbed 11. With Hardaway, Burke, and even Morgan filling it up today, Michigan didn't really need him on the offensive end, but his rebounding and general gritastic exploits continue to be amazing. 
  • Morgan--There were a couple times where you would've liked to see him have the strength to finish around the basket, but that only happened twice from what I remember. Otherwise, a great outing for Morgan (probably one of the best of his career). He was aggressive, and even showed some range in hitting an elbow jumper. That could be an invaluable tool if he can hit that with any sort of regularity, although  I doubt he has the green light to shoot that more than once or twice a game. 
  • Smotrycz--He fouled out for the second game in a row, which...stop that. Otherwise, a solid day, going 3-7 from the field and pulling in 7 boards. Not everybody can score in double digits every game, and with the aforementioned trio performing the way that they did, it wasn't necessary. I'd like to see him build up some confidence in his offensive game in these contests before the B1G schedule begins. 
  • Douglass/Vogrich--I'm just going to pair these two until there's a reason not to...Douglass did have a nice charge that wasn't a charge, so there's that. Regardless of how he's shooting, we'll need him to play some good minutes backing up Trey or he [Trey] is going to have nothing left in the tank by the end of the season. 
  • Horford--Fumbled a perfect feed from Burke that would've resulted in a sure dunk...still pretty much a non-entity on offense. 
  • Akunne--Hit a three; if he can contribute any points at all then I'd say that his minutes=win. 
  • McLimans--Scored five points in six minutes...might as well call him Fielding Yost because he's practically scoring a point a minute. Blake "Point-a-Minute" McLimans...yes.