Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 2/28/2012

Weekly Shameless Self/MnB-promotion: I wrote some stuff about Zack and Stu over at MnB...you can read it or you can not, but hopefully you choose the former. Also, make sure to check out the site at large if you haven't already. It has gone to being on "hiatus" to producing regular stuff in less than a couple of weeks, which is pretty tremendous indeed.

The Doctor Is Out: As you probably know, Matt Hinton of Dr. Saturday (and formerly Sunday Morning Quarterback) has decided to hang 'em up. While he has indicated that this isn't it for him re: writing about college football, it's still unclear what the next step is. I would have to agree with Spencer Hall's proposition:

I have a hard time imagining him not finding a better opportunity to keep doing what he does at a place with less officious superiors. The blog had gradually been oppressed by a vague sort of TMZification, and it's pretty clear that Hinton was not the source of that. 

I'm sure I'm not the only one that, with some definite sadness, deleted Dr. Saturday from my bookmarked sites. After MGoBlog and EDSBS, Dr. Saturday was my next stop along the pothole-laden information superhighway cutting through the land of College Football. It was a place where you could, on a daily basis, just become a better college football fan if you so chose. Despite writing for a big entity like Yahoo, the site was more than just a mere accumulator of links and offensively generic, unmemorable "takes." His work was a reminder that real people play and teach this game, and that it is not the NFL just yet. 

As someone who has linked to Dr. Saturday on many an occasion, I'm sad to see Hinton go; thankfully, we can reasonably assume that he will find a new spot to call home. Part of his work at Dr. Saturday was  just, well, plain 'ol work (i.e. pumping out 4-6 articles a day during football season) but the pieces that made Hinton unique required true talent and writing ability. These things are not in great supply. 

News from the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE.: So the NFL Combine--arguably the creepiest event in sports outside of college recruiting (which is more of a omnipresent stank than an "event," other than NSD, obviously)--happened and our former warrior philosopher poets, Molk, Martin, and Hemingway, all did vey well. The Combine has always been a silly thing, but it's a hoop that you have to jump through, and it's clear that all three's showings will positively affect their respective draft statuses. Regarding Junior, one scout said

There aren't more receivers that did more for themselves than that guy. He wasn't even on our radar going into this thing. He is now. It's way too early to say where or if he'll be drafted, I'm not prepared to make that distinction, but he's definitely in the conversation now. And that's more than you could have said about him a week ago. 
Junior ran a 4.53 40, which, quite frankly is a little shocking. Junior also finished first or tied for first --out of 26 receivers--in the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle, while also coming in second in the 60-yard shuttle. Protip to my Bears: so, I know David Terrell didn't really work that one time but hear me out. Forget about taking Michael Floyd with the 19th pick and grab Junior late...you can thank me later.

As for Molk and Martin, well, in case you weren't aware, they are both kind of strong. Molk put up a ridiculous 41 rep effort on the bench, which is amazing even if you have little T-rex arms. Martin, on the other hand, put up 36 after declaring that he would beat the bench press record of 49* set by former Oregon State DT (current Chicago Bear) Stephen Paea. This must've been incredibly disappointing after training for this one moment for so long; I've only seen a few quick highlights of the combine so I have no idea if there was anything wrong with him, physically, but I feel like 36 has to have been well below even his prior standards.

You know that you are strong when people are somewhat disappointed when you put up 225 pounds a mere 36 times. Clearly Mike Martin was foolishly leaning on faulty Barwis advice** when he could've gotten some free advice from the student workout warriors filling up the IM Building/CCRB; "if it's not bench you might as well not be doing it" needs to be installed somewhere in those places, kind of like an M Club Supports You banner but for the most insufferable people in Ann Arbor.

*I'm not sure why every article repeats this fact, but the record is actually 51, set by Justin Ernest of EKU in 1999. You are now armed with this utterly useless fact. Maybe, one day, you can use it to condescendingly start a sentence with the following: "Well, aaaactually..." 
**For the sarcasm-impaired...that was a joke.

GERG Redux: Relax, it's Not That Gerg. After some previously unofficial chatter, Iowa has decided to plunge headlong into the perilous situation known as "having a coordinator named Greg that is not Greg Mattison." Yes, Iowa has officially announced the hiring of Greg Davis as Kirk Ferentz's new OC. A GIS leads to these pictures popping up near the top:

Also, this:

This could all end up working out just fine, but yeah...the back-to-back hirings of Phil Parker and Greg Davis isn't exactly awe-inspiring. These hirings represent a metaphorical gunning of the car of Time; in a short time, Iowa's 2002-04 Reign of Terror suddenly feels like ancient history. It might have been not that long ago, but in that rear view mirror it's starting to look like more and more like a distant, dust-veiled memory.

With so much coaching turnover to overcome in both Iowa City and Madison, I really have a hard time envisioning either winning more than 8 games in 2012.

Things That Didn't Happen: Wolverine Historian with some basketball highlights, straight out of that fine year 1993, from a game featuring a mask-wearing Webber:

More? Rob Lytle, Jumbo Elliott, and Erick Anderson make the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame ballot. Jack Johnson has received a fate that I would wish upon no one. Crisler construction pictures at UMHoops.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Michigan-Purdue: In the Brick House

Michigan 61 (21-8, 11-5), Purdue 75 (19-10, 9-7)

Terone Johnson attacks as Michigan all the while further 
strengthens its strangehold on the brick-laying sector of the basketball economy (AP/Carlos Osorio)

After the Northwestern game, a contest in which Michigan threw up an inconceivable number of 3s, on the road, while having been down 7 at the half, there was talk of Big Ten titles, tournament seeding, and, in "talking to a pitcher in the 8th inning of a shutout" fashion, mention of even loftier goals. It was hastily forged discussion that fed into itself to the point that the goal seemed a realistic possibility by virtue of the fact that people talked about it as a possibility, kind of like when you convince yourself that you ran a 4.6 in high school that one time when a tired coach that wanted to go home hand-timed you after practice. You have no way of really proving it but it happened and you mention it over and over again as the years go idly by. It becomes a pseudo-fact of the undisprovable, foolish variety.

This game was a reminder that Michigan, when they want to be, can look eminently mid-majory (and not the "good" kind of mid-major). At the same time, if you can't already tell from the facetious Pop Evil reference in the title of this post, "I ain't even mad though," as they say. From a basketball perspective, this game didn't exactly reveal anything that we didn't already know about this team. Don't let Trey turn the corner on the pick and roll and you've essentially shut down half the offense. After that, take your chances with Michigan's erratic bunch of gritsters and THJ--Honorary Member of the Jay Cutler Bad Body Language Hall of Fame--do their thing from outside, and by "their thing" I mean throw up enough bricks to build the base for what should be a statue of Zack Novak outside of Crisler (the statue must obviously include the iconic blood streak down the face; posterity must know the meaning of true grit). Michigan shot 38 at Northwestern and still managed to win; this time, Michigan shot 32, and, well, it didn't go so well (28%). This is not a tenable strategy, but, you knew that already.

Let me give credit where it is due. Purdue played a great game and they easily deserved to win this game. They needed the big win that was absent from their resume and got it, in dominating fashion. Hummel and Lewis Jackson--the latter whom has become one of the my favorite non-Michigan players in recent memory--played like the seniors they are, ingloriously fighting to not miss the tournament. However, sophomore Terone Johnson was of course the story of the game. He scored 22 on 9-12 from the field; ALL of his makes were from 2. It was difficult to watch him attack the basket with impunity as fellow sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. clanked three after three, despite having some tantalizing success of his own off of "slice cuts" and other avenues of attacking the basket. You're sitting there watching, thinking: do more of that. Then, he does not comply with your request. End scene.

I feel a post on this coming later, but: is Terone Johnson really that much better of a player? He was a four star so it's not like he's some anonymous scrub by any means, but man. Last time around, it was THJ putting up a crooked number while Johnson only put up a mere 4 points. I've been staunchly in the "let's just ride this out even if it takes all season" camp re: THJ (not that any of us have a choice; whether your impetus is loyalty or an understanding of the depth chart's lack of, uh, depth, he's our guy, period), but it's getting harder and harder, particularly given that March is right around the corner. I'm not even saying that he should stop shooting entirely, because that's obviously ridiculous and demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the game works and is played. With that said, come tourney time, THJ's alacrity to shoot it from outside could directly lead to the end of Michigan's season. It's that simple. It really comes down to him just taking a few less a game. Instead of taking that three that you can get at literally any time in the offense, drive if you can and dish outside or to JMo when the D collapses. Or, just don't take the shot and reset the offense up top. Right now, THJ is that guy at the IM Building who you hate playing with because he jacks up a trey every time he gets the ball.

Last year's torrid shooting is not of import anymore; enough time has passed that we can and should analyze THJ in light of what he currently is and not what he was capable of doing last year. In short: recalibrate your expectations and/or pre-conceived notions if you haven't already. If you're looking for a silver lining, the fact that Michigan has had the season that it's had with THJ performing the way that he has, he is sort of an ace in the hole going forward. If the proverbial light goes on, Michigan is going places.

The most disappointing facet of all of this is that it was senior night, Michigan's undefeated home record received its first blemish, and a share of the regular season title is almost certainly out of the question. It would've been nice, but let's be honest: we'd all take a deep tourney run over a regular season title any day of the week. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course, but it's better to purge these sorts of performances from the collective stock of possible outings now rather than later.

Even more disappointing than all of the aforementioned is that this game would've served as a sort of calming force, a reassurance that, yeah, maybe we really are that good. To be honest, I think we are still that good. This team is certainly capable of a Sweet 16 team (and maybe better if the bracket goes a certain way) Unfortunately, come tourney time, that doesn't matter; all it takes is one poor effort. As we've seen, when Michigan loses they lose hard. I say that Michigan is capable of a tourney run that we haven't seen in a very long time, and yet, this performance elevate the creeping suspicion that we could just as easily get bounced in the first round. I highly doubt that will actually happen, but when you look at the way Michigan has lost this season, is it really out of the question?

Among many things, I came into this game looking for reassurance...what I got was unadulterated nightmare fuel. It's the type of thing that, the night before Michigan's first-round game, will wake you up in a cold sweat: the threes, the threes, the threes, they clank off every time. The horror, the horror.

Player Bullets, Also Known As "That Was Turrible, Kenny": 

  • Burke--A tough outing to be sure. I'll say this again, but Lewis Jackson is a frustrating little guy to have to play against. Trey turned it over 4 times, at least a couple which lead directly to points for the Boilers. If any future opponents need the blueprint for defending Trey Burke, this would be a good game to watch. When Burke is prevented from turning the corner on the P&R as he was over and over again last night, this offense finds itself in a quagmire of useless dribbling and late-into-the-shot-clock 3 chucking. 
  • THJ--You know, if you take out the 0-6 from 3, Tim went 5-7 from inside the arc en route to 10 points and six boards. However, you can't eliminate that, and paired with four turnovers, watching THJ crumble mentally within the first five minutes of each game is becoming painful to watch. I wish I had snapped a picture of THJ's facial expression after his airball from the top of the key; it was an apropos combination of horror, disbelief, and nihilistic rage. I would love for Beilein to cut up a Terone Johnson highlight tape from this game, show it to THJ, and be all "Hey, do that." It's gotten to the point that each brick is becoming an obvious spirit-killer. I understand the frustration that comes with not being able to do a thing that, in your heart and mind, is a thing that you can (and have) done with great success before. At the same time, part of the maturation process is realizing when it just isn't working, and how not realizing or acknowledging this fact can affect the team. These next two games will be huge for THJ. 
  • Douglass--Amidst the sea of under-performance, Stu filled up the stat sheet quite nicely, as we've almost come to expect. He went 3-7 from the field for 7 points, while also grabbing 4 boards, 5 assists, a steal, and one Serge Ibaka impression on Lewis Jackson in the lane (i.e., a block). Stu Douglasss is the Swiss Army knife of basketball players. It is unfortunate that his last game in Crisler had to be that
  • Novak--I feel doubly bad for Zack; he really deserved to end his career in Crisler under better terms. Minus an early two, all of his attempts were from 3, where he went 4-10. A quiet game, really, which is pretty heartbreaking. 
  • Morgan--Without the pick and roll really getting going in any way, JMo wasn't able to make a significant difference. He did go 4-7 from the field but Shaq'd a pair of FTs and also missed at least one bunny (from what I can remember of this haze of senior night sadness). As a Bulls fan, watching him miss bunnies and get his shot blocked with regularity in the paint is eerily redolent of Carlos Boozer; that is not a good thing. 
  • Smotrycz--Had a very nice back down of a smaller Purdue defender (Ryne Smith?) that led to an easy two at the basket. Also hit a three, but other than that he just didn't do much to give Michigan a spark from the bench. Even if he had, Michigan wasn't going to win this game. 
  • Vogrich--Hit a deep three, missed two others. When THJ goes out, Diet Novak gets called in from the bullpen, which is like going from a fireballer to the frisbee-tossing Shingo Takatsu. Once the novelty wears off, he sort of just becomes a guy, out there. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 2/21/2011

A Site Note: If you haven't noticed, Maize N Brew is back to producing daily content. I've been invited to contribute on a semi-regular basis. I put up my first piece on Monday, on the topic of Saturday's game. I also put a word in on the subject of Big Ten power rankings. If you read this blog, odds are you are more than interested in looking for additional sources of Michigan-centric information/editorializing/stupid photoshopping to keep you occupied while at work, so you'll definitely want to check Maize N Brew out; a link is available in the blog roll down there to the left if you'd let to jump off from here.

In short, go check it out.

The Importance of Being GRITTY: Andy Staples decided to run through the notable under-the-radar sorts that made significant impacts on college football squads far and wide. Naturally, Michigan features prominently. Jordan Kovacs, Patrick Omameh, and Will Heininger Nathan Brink [derp--the list is for 2012, obviously, so no Heininger] all make the list.

If you're the sort that thinks of the negatives first, I will oblige you by saying that, yes, the fact that these guys were forced into action speaks to our talent level and/or our touted talent's inability to perform (and, certainly, be coached with any level of competence..I'll leave it at that). Now that that's out of the way...man. After years of watching schools like Wisconsin and Iowa manufacture solid to pretty good anonymous walk-ons (particularly at safety), we finally have one of our own. Jordan Kovacs is no longer a nice story: he is pretty darn good, period. Think about how far he's come since getting dusted by Darius Willis--a slow Indiana tailback--in 2009. Don't look now, but in light of my TIME IS RUNNING OUT Denard alarum...Kovacs only has one more go at it himself. Savor that sweet sweet safety competence before we have to head back to the great void of uncertainty that comprised most, if not all, of the post-1997 years (depending on how strongly you feel about the Adams and Englemon pairing).

Omameh's story is no less impressive. If I remember correctly, Omameh was one of those guys in the first RR/Lloyd class that RR brought in just before NSD. Omameh had some issues transitioning to the new offense this season, but he got better as the year went on. With another year left to go for him, I'd expect some All-Conference consideration coming his way. A 2-star project to make it to the starting lineup is impressive--depth chart notwithstanding-- in and of itself, but anything after that is just gravy. Hey 2-stars and walk-ons: Ann Arbor is where the magic happens.

After all the Brink hysteria leading up to the opener last year, Heininger was the unheralded walk-on guy that actually became a legitimate piece in the DL rotation. As Brian noted in his UFRs, he was more than a last resort plug-in; he actually MADE PLAYS at times. Injuries in his last two seasons partially derailed what could have been another impressive story. As great as Kovacs has been, to become a contributor on the defensive line is a different beast entirely. Heininger will prove to be an underrated loss going forward. But, Brink should hopefully be able to follow in Heininger's gritty shoes.

Things That People Write When They Have To Say Something About Nothing: Tom Fornelli, in what was probably a throwaway, offhand comment, but still:

Yeah, I don't think anybody was expecting Denard to actually to put the football through the hoop from full court, but the coming up short or just missing wide right is a bit disconcerting, no?

BENCH DENARD FIRE EVERYBODY RUN FOR THE HILLS. Denard, I know you run a 4.3...but why not a 4.2 or a 4.1, even? I am disconcerted. Even Dr. Saturday picked up on this theme, writing in a similarly humorous fashion while also joining the legions of people who continue to spell Hemingway incorrectly. I would blame the authors of these articles, but I think that the grotesque monstrosity called "the offseason" is more to blame here. Commenter "Chaz"--who you can tell from his name is probably a really cool dude who knows a lot of important things and you would definitely not not want to hang out with--takes the time to extrapolate the following from Denard's performance at Crisler:

Thank You. Someone else realizes he's really not that good. He's a good athlete but not a good QB.
Indeed, Chaz. Fire Denard, everything is terrible, etc.

Northwestern: Sobocop Redux: It seems like the afterglow of the OSU game has not yet worn off, but here we are with another game to watch. Michigan travels to Northwestern to play at Welsh-Ryan, a venue that has not been kind to us in the last couple of seasons. If I remember correctly, even when we won in 2008-09, it was in OT. Nick Baumgardner gives you 4 things to watch for tonight, and 1 and 4 are of the most interest to me.

Morgan on a 5-playing Shurna sounds like a 20+ point effort waiting to happen (from Shurna, that is). Of course, I'm sure Shurna will see his fair share of Smotrycz. As for #4, I will say that I have a less than optimistic view of tonight's potential outcome. For the record, I think Michigan finishes 3-1, with the one loss coming tonight. It sounds like Welsh-Ryan will be sold out, and many Northwestern folks seem to be building this up like it's the biggest game in program history. I doubt that is actually true, but Michigan is a top 11 team* and the Wildcats will be fighting for a tourney berth, which will all but slip away into the great abyss if they lose this game. I won't be previewing it, but most of the stuff from my first preview still applies.

Also, yes: Sobolewski will be referred to as Sobocop for the rest of his time at Northwestern. Insult or encomium? It doubles as both, I guess. Northwestern fans, feel free to appropriate it as your own.


Home Sweet Home: Despite a 10-year deal with Emperor Palpatine Jerry Jones, the Aggie-Razorback series will move to campus locations for the 2012 and 2013 games. With Texas dropping off the Aggie schedule, I think Arkansas could more than adequately fill that hatred vacuum as the years go by. Taking this game to College Station and Fayetteville will go a long way toward that goal. As weird as Texas A&M is as an entity, they're like kerosone: all SEC teams need is a match and you've got a rivalry.

In any case, more games on campus sites=good. Obviously, these two are now in the same conference and this was inevitable, anyway, but as a general rule I think that these games need to be played at campus locations. Brian has mentioned this over and over again, but as someone who has spent several years in Alabama, having the chance to watch the winged helmets take the field at Bryant-Denny would have been a surreal, pseudo-transcendent experience. Instead, we're playing it in the alien spaceship from Independence Day also known as Cowboys Stadium. I can't wait to guilt myself into buying $400+ tickets for nosebleed seats in a stadium in Not Even Dallas...fergodsakes.

More? Hey, NFL teams, a protip: you want this man on your team. The Cock of Victory from the WLA: OHIO BEATEN. Add "trees" to the list of "things that Nick Saban doesn't care about." MnB preview of the Northwestern game tonight from the_white_tiger.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Time and Quarterbacks and Yesterday

This upcoming fall, Denard Robinson will be a senior. It will be his last year as a Wolverine.

Was this yesterday? It is yesterday like that moment from your childhood, the one that, through some process of by and large senseless mental natural selection, survived the years and became entrenched, a moment so brief--and potentially, probably, trivial--yet definitive of an era.

In 1997, after the Wisconsin game, I remember walking through a Toys R Us parking lot with my parents. The asphalt was wet--I remember this--and I could only think about how good the team had looked--in fact, I think I remember saying "They looked really good"--and what was in store for Michigan, before the BCS and realignment and any other number of post-modern gibberish diluted and sullied the product. This, and I was about to get a toy of some sort. Things were as good as they could be. The wind in my sails was forceful but kind.

I remember watching the 1998 Rose Bowl, a week before my 9th birthday. I was eating Skittles--I remember this, Wild Berry, I think--and watching the action unfold in my Midwestern living room as the Wolverines and Cougars took the field in a sun-soaked Eden, all of which I couldn't truly appreciate but knew was something to be in awe of. Living in the suburbs of Chicago at the time and thus concurrently experiencing the second Bulls 3-peat, I was spoiled. I watched every game expecting the Bulls to win, and they almost always did. When they went 72-10 in the 1995-96 season, each loss seemed a grave indignity by virtue of their infrequency, my reactions then to those losses only matched by my modern-day consternation on Saturdays when Michigan's helmets decided to spot an opponent more than 14 points. It was the closest that the NBA--or any other brand of sport--was ever elevated to and allowed to coexist on the same plane of existence that Michigan football occupied, occupies, and will continue to occupy.

I remember always feeling a sense of unspoken dread whenever the Bulls wore black in those days. Whether backed by fact or not, it always seemed that they would lose when donning the black road uniforms as opposed to the red ones. This relic of superstition survives to this very day, as useless as the appendix. When the Bulls wear black, I reflexively expect defeat. 

I only got to experience the last three years of Jordan's career in Chicago (I hear he played somewhere after that--for the preservation of my idyllic view of that time, I continue to ignore that Pretender arrogating the throne of MJ), but those three years were arguably the longest years of my life. They were three years of unadulterated sports bliss, and they were probably best consumed in the time my life in which they were consumed. Each year was a triumphant march toward what I felt was rightfully Chicago's, and I mean that in the naive way that a child believes it and not an adult's rage-filled insistence that his team deserves and should win it every year in an invocation of Divine Right. The adult could learn something from the child; Divine Right in sports comes from this world and not on high (whether literally on high--a Heaven of sorts where sports is the chief concern--or as a part of an artificial notion of deservedness interwoven within a city's character vis-a-vis its sports teams.

All of this was taken in while Michigan was making its push for the Rose Bowl (and if I had only known about Michigan hockey circa the mid to late nineties, my understanding of how sports fandom is supposed to work might have been irrevocably stunted). Naturally, I was eight, and so the particulars of it all were never there in real time (what I know of that season is a combination of impressionistic recall and retrospective viewing and reading of whatever I can find on the Internet and elsewhere). The year, 1997, was marked in my mind by three things, things which aren't so much plays as they are concepts: Woodson's interception against MSU, Woodson's punt return, and Brian Griese waggles. Now, when a Michigan quarterback play actions and comes the other way, I rise out of my seat, conditioned like Pavlov's dog.

Fandom grows and changes and I don't think that necessarily means that something definitively good or bad is happening in the process. I will say that that time of my fandom--that period between 1996 and 1998--was the greatest era in my relatively brief career as a fan of sports. You would think that the reason for this would be four combined titles won between my two favorite teams at the time--the Michigan football team and the Jordan Bulls--but that is not the case, anymore. As the years have passed and I've been able to more fully appreciate what I had the luck to experience as a kid, the entire thing boils down to one issue. It is a concept that dominates everything around us, whether we choose to be aware of it not. We get older and relative duration is exchanged for clarity.

Time, time, time. It's all about time.


As we get older, Time has a funny way of passing. As children, we are pushed through the fabric of space and time (Space and Time if we want to pretend about any number of things) slowly, as if to ease us into what lies ahead. Take your time, kid. High school and driving and college are all other such things are so far out of the realm of a child's comprehension that they can barely exist. Life is like a water slide: it starts off slow, giving you enough time to understand and enjoy the fact that THIS IS A WATER SLIDE before taking you through swiftly and with less meaning than you might want. 1996-1998 was like the initial part before the precipitous drop, before days shed hours and weeks and months flew by with astonishing speed.

Another watershed moment in my fandom occurred in 2004. Michigan was replacing a significant amount of firepower, of which quarterback was probably the most difficult to immediately replace. As good as Chris Perry was, the quarterback position is in a league of its own, and John Navarre was a good one in his final season despite what many will tell you.

Matt Gutierrez went down and true freshman Chad Henne became the starter. The following January, Michigan found themselves in the Rose Bowl on the heels of remarkable freshman seasons from Henne and a little guy named Hart--to the satisfaction of pun and sports cliche enthusiasts everywhere--and although Michigan had lost to two mediocre to bad teams in Notre Dame and Ohio State (and a Vince Young-led Longhorns team in the Rose Bowl), things were looking good. It was 2004, and we had three more years of this. It would only get better.

A few years later. I was a freshman at Michigan, watching my first game as a student. The senior year, which had been talked about for so long as if it were a Holy Grail, was here. Like Thomas Hobbes's opinion on the nature of life, it was short and brutish. The following season elaborated on this notion.

Then, Denard Robinson burst onto the scene in 2009. Unlike Henne, he had to wait a year before becoming the starting quarterback. A boon and a curse, the year came and went with efficient, heartless speed. This is the crux of the matter. When you get older, when the gravitational pull of life is strong enough to have pulled you into its orbit like the wayward bit of interstellar rock that you are, you are moving too fast for you to truly appreciate everything that is transpiring. Now, there is not enough time to even say that this will never end.

Some things are cynic-proof. 

2010 and 2011 came and went, each replete with their own triumphs and misfortunes. He ran and ran but Time outpaced him. There is only one year left.


Getting older has its negatives, as I've made clear. However, getting older allows the benefit of experience and hindsight. In 2004, I, like many, assumed that some combination of national and conference championships was an inevitability. In doing so, I think many lost the way. By 2007--and after the first two games of that season--there was a sense of dead weight, of a wasted something, an unattained ideal, all while things were happening that were worth really talking about.

Michigan went 11-2 this past season. Denard is now a senior, and Michigan returns much in the form of hope and a promise of the continuation of last year's successes. It is difficult to believe, however, that this will be the last season in which Denard Robinson will lead the Wolverines. When I think about it, I think of his run against Western in 2009, the 2010 ND game, and last year's Ohio game, wondering how it could have possibly happened this fast. Is this really it?

The boon of fandom, post-childhood, is that we can retain and store memories more precise and comprehensive than we could have imagined or been capable of as children. It is a simple fact of biology, and yet, it is the most endearing tool in our favor, as adults rooting for Michigan, attempting to revive the unburdened glow of childhood.

If you haven't started storing these sorts of things, start doing so. You'll wake up soon, January knocking at your door. The snow will be falling, perpendicular to the ground and in step with time, and Denard Robinson no longer playing for the Wolverines will have become a reality. This corporeal January will either scold you or shake your hand for what you've done, how you've handled the in between.

There will never be another Denard Robinson, just like there will never be another Chad Henne or Mike Hart. I made a mistake, in 2004, of establishing expectations, a reasonable projection. Wait till 2007, ad infinitum. 2007 is now, in a way, 2012.

To take on expectations--say, that Michigan won 11 games last season so they should logically win 11 again, or, even more ambitiously, more--is a mistake. It draws attention away from the reality on the field, whatever that may be. We have less than a year left with Denard, an allotment of time that would have once been an eternity. If time insists on moving faster as we slide, we might as well take notes. The curvature of the slide, a mental rendering of its layout in realtime, the exact feeling of the slide--the intermittent harshness and smoothness of it--and the exact moment when the realization that it's over descends, allowing itself to be described and understood as it happens. This is what we can do. It's the only thing to do; to take note, review, and bask in the clarity of memory in formation.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Michigan-Illinois: Alive

Michigan 70, Illinois 61
Don't call it a comeback. (AP/Carlos Osorio)
In 2007, my freshman year and John Beilein's first season in Ann Arbor, I attended every home game of a season in which Michigan won 10 games. Unlike the Pearl Jam album, this aforementioned ten was not so great. That season, Michigan lost to: Central Michigan, Western Kentucky (who, at the team, was just Western Kentucky and not a team that would eventually make it to the Sweet 16), Harvard, and a majority of the Big Ten. We, the students, stormed the court after beating a Buckeye squad that would go on to miss the tournament a month later. 

Michigan won nine pre-Big Ten tournament games that season. Right now, on February 13th, Michigan has nine conference wins after beating the Illini, with five games left to play. People aren't talking about whether or not Michigan will make the tournament. People aren't talking about whether or not this "system" can work in the gritty Big Ten, where the only offense is stingy defense and offensive sets can best be described as: measured, deliberate, dignified, decorous acquiescence to the notion that scoring points is somehow like drinking hemlock. 

People are talking about seeding. A four, a five? There are distinct loci on the map of college basketball that Michigan now firmly occupies instead of the Purgatorial listlessness that once loomed over the program for over a decade. People are talking about Michigan's chances to win the conference title, regular season and tournament. That's not to say that Michigan will win either (the former hinges upon whether or not Michigan can beat the Buckeyes at home on Saturday), but people are talking about it. Think about how insane that is, as a concept and as a potential reality. A little over four years ago, Michigan was busy losing to an Amaker-coached Harvard squad, a moment in history that typifies the Universe's mischievous sense of humor. 

Now, Michigan is winning road games, defending its home court as if it were Helm's Deep, and doing it all while leaning on a freshman point guard and a limited bench. John Beilein has assembled a spaceship out of aluminum foil, duct tape, and unadulterated tactics, a craft that I would say is bound for the Moon if it wasn't clearly destined for far more ambitious locales. 

Brady Hoke led a similarly deficient squad to an 11-2 season, and yet, the question I have is shockingly rhetorical: has John Beilein's coaching job this season been any less impressive than what Hoke and the football team were able to accomplish? I would posit that the answer is a resounding no. 


As for the game itself, the formula for success was very much understood coming in. Getting Leonard into foul trouble was essentially the golden path to victory. Leonard picked up two within the first eight minutes and ended up playing only 27 when all was said and done. This also helped to mitigate the loss of JMo to early fouls; he had done a pretty job of avoiding that of late, but it happens. Michigan can't have that happen if they want to beat the Buckeyes, though. 

With that said, Leonard was pretty much invisible after his two early buckets. He finished with 5 points, a testament to some solid defense on Michigan's and a little bit of luck. As I detailed in the preview, Leonard had been tearing teams up of late, so to hold him to five points was a significant achievement. 

Otherwise, the Illini's offensive attack was as expected: frenetic, in a bad way. Michigan turned turnovers into points with regularity as if the Illini offense was a Coinstar machine. If it wasn't for a surprising 18-point effort from former starter Tyler "Don't Call Me Ken" Griffey, this game would have been a blowout. 

Offensively, Michigan scored 70 on a decent defense despite seemingly leaving quite a few points on the floor in the form of some missed bunnies. However, the most important development was the return form of THJ and Smotrycz, both scoring in the double digits and displaying an esprit de corps that had been absent for quite some time. In addition, Vogrich had himself a game, building upon his shooting performance in Lincoln. If THJ and Smotrycz continue to pick themselves back out of their respective confidence sinkholes and Vogrich can continue to shoot the lights out and provide the underrated gritty exploits that he so consistently does, this team will be a terrifying matchup for a lot of folks come tournament time. 

Player Bullets, Also Known As "Trey Burke and Those Who Are Not Trey Burke":
  • Burke--Continues to be awesome. Had another one of his high-volume poor shooting days but it's obviously not a big deal under the circumstances. Fourteen points on 5/11 shooting from 2 (0/4 from 3), 3 assists, and a pair of steals make for another decidedly un-freshman-like performance. The rest of the schedule is relatively manageable; Burke-Craft Redux this Saturday will be one to watch vis-a-vis the progression of this supposed "freshman" playing basketball for us. 
  • THJ--Let me just get this out first: WOOOOOOOOOO. Yes. This is how we do it, indeed. THJ paced the Wolverines with 15 points on 5/9 shooting (2/3 from 3), 3 boards, and 3 assists. He's getting better and better with the ball in his hands in transition...he's been dropping dimes like Patriots wideouts drop passes (I'll show myself the door now). There's nothing else to say but DO MORE OF THAT OKAY THANKS. The only negative is that his minutes were chopped up awkwardly by foul trouble, so I wonder how much better his stat line would have looked like if he was able to avoid that. 
  • Morgan--A quiet day offensively but a large part of that is obviously the result of foul trouble. Also, went 0/3 from the line, not exactly helping his percentage, which is hovering close to 50% at this point. That's not good...hopefully that doesn't come back to bite us at some point. We have zero chance against the Buckeyes if JMo only logs 12 minutes again. 
  • Novak--What can be said about the Mayor of the glorious berg of Gritville that hasn't already been said? Twelve points on only four FGA, but he did go 5/5 from the line. Also, nine rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal. The Maize Rage needs to invent some sort of Goalie/Sieve chant for Novak involving grit and whatever the opposite of that may be...Blackhawks? /self-deprecating Hawks fan
  • Douglass--Like JMo, a quiet day from the field, but did just enough to prevent Paul from giving us a legitimate scare. You would think that a senior would have displayed very little real improvement from his first 3 years to his 4th; Douglass has not only done that, but he has shown significant improvement between a month or so ago and now. Solid defense, less facepalm-inducing turnovers and long 3s=very solid plus player. 
  • Smotrycz--After predicting a double digit points performance for Evan in Lincoln, it appears that I jumped the gun by a game. Evan put in a confident 13 points on 3/6 shooting (2/3 from 3, 5/6 from the line). Thirteen off of the bench is probably not a reasonable thing to expect on the reg, but if he can keep this sort of play up then that takes Michigan from an outside shot for a conference title of either variety to a real, legitimate threat to win one. The definitive X-factor, if you will. Amateur sports psychology can often border on the absurd, but if you couldn't tell the difference in his overall demeanor in this game then I don't know what to tell you. Whatever Phil Jackson zen Beilein is using is clearly starting to work. 
  • Vogrich--For a second game in a row, Vogrich does his best Korver impression. Eight points from him in any game is just gravy. Perfect from 3 again (2/2) and a nice backdoor cut for a layup and a drive that led to a crucial foul on Leonard were impressive plays for a guy who seemingly has no game outside of shooting the trey. As usual, he continues to show a level of underrated grit, picking up 2 boards, a steal, and one possession arrow by tying up Meyers Leonard (of all people). 
  • McLimans--Only four minutes. Didn't really do anything except elicit mocking words from Raftery about him not wanting to post up and whatnot. I know that I've been somewhat irrationally hoping for him to get more minutes, but for some reason I think that he's going to hit a big shot at some point before this season is over. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Illinois Preview: The Giant of Illinois

General Outlook 
After dispatching an inept Huskers team, a win at home against the Illini would serve as a solid momentum-creator--if you believe in things like that--to carry Michigan through the somewhat weak back end of the schedule.

The Illini come in at 16-8 (5-6), and to say that they are reeling is putting it lightly. The S.S. Weber is currently taking on water and all aboard are fighting for spots on one of the lifeboats. Unfortunately, the Illini have not done a good job at this, as every time they think they have a chance to get on, some shameless ruffian--PSU, Minnesota, Wisconsin--pushes them aside most boorishly. They have lost 5 of their last 6, the one win coming in the The Adventures of Pluto Nash of basketball games, a 42-41 "win" against the Spartans last week. Otherwise, the Illini have been herpin' and derpin' after getting off to a solid 4-1 start in the conference (a start which included the premier performance of the Big Ten season, Brandon PAWWWLLLLL's MJ impression against the Buckeyes).

The Illini played your standard non-conference schedule, losing their two biggest tests (Mizzou, UNLV) and beating a decent Gonzaga team and a mediocre Maryland squad. However, they have been scuffling in the last month or so, and they really needed to win at Indiana last night. Illinois will be in desperation mode, as losing would force them to finish 4-2 in their last 6 games if they want to finish .500 in the conference. Those last 6 games include tilts against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan, so the Illini will likely call upon all the grit reserves they have in order to win in Ann Arbor to obviate having to do that.

The aforementioned notwithstanding, losing this game would be a pretty huge disappointment but not a killer, as Michigan is in a pretty good spot right now.

Bruce Weber, looking confused/probably about 
to give some less than useful advice

The Offense 
Knowing that the Illini have lost 5 of 6, you could assume that there have been some defensive issues. The Illini have given up 70+ in their last two outings against Northwestern and IU--74 and 84 respectively--which bodes well for Michigan, as there are some philosophical similarities between those teams' offensive attacks and Michigan's.

The Illini are giving up 62.2 points per game (it went up by almost a whole point after IU dropped 84 on them), which isn't too bad but isn't reflective of their play of late, minus the all-around derpfest that was the MSU game. Although the defense has been had in its last two outings, it has mostly not been the major culprit in Illinois' downfall. In fact, the defense has been pretty solid; it all starts from the inside with sophomore 7-footer Meyers Leonard.

Coming into the Indiana game, the Illini were third best in the conference in blocks and are giving up a solid 46.8% from 2. Leonard is averaging about a pair of blocks a game, but the 7-footer certainly alters his fair share of shots in addition to those blocks. While those who enter the lane should be wary of Leonard's shot-blocking ability-like Dante and Virgil upon entering Hell, abandon all hope ye who enter here--attacking and getting him in foul trouble is a pretty easy way of mitigating his presence. Getting him out of the paint as much as possible via the pick and roll will also be key, although he is certainly athletic enough to keep up with Morgan on the roll.

Michigan will finally have one of these next year (see: McGary, Mitch)

Spearheaded by Leonard's height, the Illini are rebounding 69% of opponents' misses, which puts them at 5th best in the conference, which actually isn't as good as I expected, but, then again, they are 5-6 in Big Ten play. As long as Leonard is on the floor, I doubt Michigan gets too many second chances, but if Michigan can get him in foul trouble then there could be a few opportunities.

Otherwise, the rest of the lineup isn't too physically imposing. Joseph Bertrand, Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Tracy Abrams are 6'5'', 6'4'', 6'3'' and 6'1'' respectively. Another piece of good news: Illinois is pretty turrible at defending the three, which they are allowing at a 36.3% rate, a higher clip than our own maligned 3-point D. The Wildcats and Hoosiers shot a combined 15/32 from 3 against the Illini in their last 2 games, good for 47%. The looks will be there, Michigan will just has to hit them. Easier said than done, as we know.

The Defense 
Illinois's offensive attack has been somewhat of a tire fire at times. What I'm about to say is perhaps more insulting than any statistical evidence I will impart to you, but there are moments when this Illinois team reminds me of one of Amaker's Horton-led teams (if those teams were given a 7-footer like Leonard). The Illini turn the ball over with alacrity; in conference play, the Illini have put up a ghastly TO% of 22.2%, which is only better than Nebraska. Illinois, like those Horton teams, seems to depend on those supernova-type performances from Paul that Horton was wont to have from time to time. 

Illinois' offense tends to be fairly self-destructive 

Even the casual fan knows about Brandon Paul after his 43-point explosion against the Buckeyes; he averages a cool 15 ppg. However, his eFG% is even lower than THJ's; at 48.6%, he is 37th in the conference. After Paul, Leonard and D.J. Richardson are the other two double digit scorers (13.3 and 12.2 ppg respectively), both better in eFG% than Paul, with Leonard checking in in the top 10 of all B1G players. With that said, the good news for Michigan is two-fold. 

  • While Leonard is, like Zeller, a skyscraper of a human being, he is not nearly as polished. He doesn't have the same smoothness about his game that Zeller has, and his points will mostly come from the FT line (only Paul has more FTA on the Illini roster than him) and general gritting around near the basket. He's going to be a first-round pick based simply on his defensive abilities and athletic ability that is rare for a guy of his height, but, still, his offensive game is fairly raw. 
  • Second, the Illini don't seem to shoot the 3 all that well. Even Paul only shoots 34.5% from 3 on the second-most attempts, behind D.J. Richardson's team-leading 138 attempts. Richardson is shooting a team-high (of those with a relevant sample size, that is) 38.4%. Obviously, this means he is the guy to watch from outside. Sam Maniscalco is the third most eager 3-point gunner, but he shoots a pretty awful 26.6%; he can shoot as much as he wants. Overall, though, they don't attempt too many (6 attempts per game). 

This is an offensive attack that has looked downright dysfunctional at times (8th in ppg in conference play). They are mediocre from 3, and their inside presence isn't exactly Olajuwon when it comes to making a post move. If Stu plays the type of defense he has been playing, odds are Paul won't have a good enough game to propel the Illini to an upset.

Who/What To Watch

  • Michigan attacking the paint/drawing fouls on Leonard. If Michigan can manage getting Leonard to pick up 2 early fouls, I have to think this game could be locked up in the first half. If the fouls don't happen, make him come out and defend the pick and roll; the more time he spends outside of the paint the better, from both a rebounding and a shot-blocking perspective. 
  • Stu vs. Brandon Paul. Nothing to say here other than D up and don't let him score 43. It is a little bit worrisome that Paul scored 43 against a team featuring a defensive pest like Craft, but you have to think that was just a once in a lifetime performance. 
  • The generic "make 3s" point goes here. With Leonard patrolling the lane, Michigan will need to convert from outside or else a desperate Illinois team could keep it close throughout. 
Meaningless Prediction
Michigan as yet to lose at home and I don't think that record get its first blemish this Sunday. Illinois just does not look good these days, and I have never really been a fan of Weber in general. Leonard presents some pretty obvious matchup problems for us (for any team, really), but Michigan's solid effort against Zeller perhaps provided the interior defense in this game. Michigan has the option of bringing the double with THJ and letting the Illini perimeter guys clank threes, or they can take their chances with an unpolished Leonard in the post. I'm leaning towards the latter, as Leonard is also a surprisingly adept passer for a big man, one of several aspects of his game that NBA scouts are raving about. 

Either way, Leonard will get his. In 4 of his last 5 games, he's scored: 17, 21, 17, and 16. However, as long as Stu plays his customarily sturdy defense against a somewhat inefficient Brandon Paul, Illinois shouldn't pose too much of a threat. Offensively, Michigan will need to walk the line between caution and courage in attacking the lane when Leonard is on the floor. But, as usual, it will come down to whether or not Michigan can hit their looks from outside. In the friendly confines of the Crisler Center, Michigan will see enough 3s go in en route to getting that critical 9th conference win. Michigan 68, Illinois 61. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Michigan-Nebraska: Guess I'm Doin' Fine

Michigan 62, Nebraska 46

Rod Beard tweeted this and I thought it was just about the perfect way to summarize everything about this game: 

Everything about this game was redolent of high school basketball; the crippling offensive incompetence, the lopsided score, the peanut gallery fans yelling SHOOT THE BALL as the home team "runs the offense," an elaborate series of passes and movements that eventually ends in some final, awkward self-immolating act. 

Nebraska's offensive attack (I know I know, it's Family 
Guy...also, in German for some reason)

Watching Nebraska try to do anything really took me back to my high school basketball days. They were really that bad, and the score doesn't even begin to reflect how non-competitive it truly was (the Huskers hit a few meaningless shots at the end--including a buzzer beating 3--to up their total to 46). In any case, if you needed any further reminder as to which sport the conference had in mind when it came time to admit Nebraska, I'll give you a hint: it wasn't basketball

After the game in November, I have a hard time being too disparaging of the Huskers because all of their fans just seemed so gosh darned nice. So, I will talk about Michigan from here on out. Michigan came out firing from 3 (i.e. Novak and Douglass did), and then spent much of the rest of the half fending off whatever offense-destroying virus had infected them by virtue of being on the same court as the inept Huskers. Michigan ended the first half with only 22 points and shot way too many threes against a Husker team that was decent at defending the 3 but downright turrible Kenny at defending the 2. Overall, though, the Huskers did a good job defensively in the first half. The match-up zone gave Michigan some problems, exacerbated by the fact that Michigan kept taking the outside shot that Nebraska was, to an extent, conceding. After the first three triples to start the game, Michigan scored 13 points in the last 13 minutes of the first half, which would be good if this were football. 

Here's where you insert the shortest motivational coaching montage of all time. Beilein tells the guys: "Hey, maybe we should go to the basket?" The team: "Okay." Bacari Alexander then fashioned a basketball hoop out of the corn husks strewn around the locker room floor (CORN NEBRASKA HURRR), dunking on it and thereby destroying it in order to really drive the point home. Beneath the veneer of unsuccessfully stifled giggling, the players understood what they needed to do. 

And they did it. Game Blouses. Michigan's eFG% in the second half was an outrageous 97.2% (HT: UMHoops). JMo was converting on layup after layup, and, most encouragingly, THJ also joined in on the high-percentage shot fun. Also, Michigan turned the ball over a mere 4 times, and 2 of those were shot clock violations. That's crazy, and awesome, as Rees-ing it up would've been the only thing that would have given the Huskers a chance to win the game. 

Matt Vogrich, channeling Kyle Korver

Quite simply, this was a win Michigan needed to have and they got it in impressive fashion (well, most of the second half was decent, I guess, relatively). Nebraska is truly horrid, but a road win is an impressive thing no matter the opponent. More importantly, there were a few encouraging things going on vis-a-vis certain individual players that give us reasons to be optimistic going forward. 

Player Bullets, Also Known As "Trey Burke and Those Who Are Not Trey Burke": 
  • Burke--The all-around very solid performance that has become customary from Trey. Twelve points on 4-7 shooting (3-4 from 3), five boards, 5 assists, and only 2 turnovers...just a very efficient performance in a low possessions game. 
  • Hardaway--Okay, so 3-11 from the field and another poor performance from 3 (0-6) looks bad on the surface, but if you watched the game you'd know that he was at least trying to attack. Sure, he took some bad threes in the first half (if this was February 2011 they wouldn't be "bad" shots), but he changed it up in the second half. He was also active defensively, drawing a charge. He also pitched in a trio of assists; again, the common refrain of "he can still be a plus player if he does other things well" goes here. But, you have to think that the perimeter shots will start falling eventually...right?
  • Novak--The Mayor sank a pair of threes to start the game, pretty much setting the tempo for the rest of the game. Led Michigan with 14 points on 6-9 shooting, in addition to 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and one count of grand larceny (3 steals). Also, a congratulations is in order, as Zack joined the 1,000 point club, making him the 45th Wolverine to do so. Even more impressively, he is only the 28th Wolverine to have 1,000 points and 500 rebounds to his name. Remember what happened when we thought replacing Lee and Merritt might not be a huge deal? Yeah, replacing Zack and Stu is going to be like that but ten times more difficult. 
  • Douglass--Stu continues to quietly be a very good player for us. Stu pitched in 13 points on 4-7 shooting (3-5 from 3), 2 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals. That's a good performance for Stu even without the torrid shooting...anything more is just delicious, victory-producing gravy. 
  • Morgan--This team is so much more fun to watch when Morgan is being found for easy buckets. Eight points on 4-5 from the field, 6 boards, 2 assists, and a steal make for a strong performance from JMo. You would think that Nebraska would've been more cognizant of their matchups after facing a Princetony team like Northwestern last week, but that was not the case, on the break or in the half court. In any case, JMo: keep on keepin' on. 
  • McLimans--Again, would've been nice to see him get a few more minutes in a blowout such as this one, but whatever. Did have a derpy turnover in garbage time. 
  • Vogrich--Apparently we had Kyle Korver on loan from the Bulls tonight, which is nice but I'd imagine might result in some NCAA complications. Jokes aside, Diet Novak was en fuego from 3, showcasing the 3-point shooting prowess we were expecting from him when he was recruited. Keep doing that, please. 
  • Smotrycz--Naturally, after predicting that Smotrycz would score in the double digits he puts up a goose egg. In fact, he didn't even attempt a field goal in 13 minutes, which is a little strange. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nebraska Preview: Into That Great Void

General Outlook 
Michigan looks to bounce back from a mugging received in East Lansing* by notching a road victory against the hapless Cornhuskers. Unfortunately, Michigan cannot play anything less than their best or they will come away with a faith-shaking, regular season title chance-killing loss. The most impressive win of Nebraska's season was, as you may know, a defeat of #13 Indiana in Lincoln. I'm sure that Beilein will make sure to mention this more than once and the Mayor of Gritville will be running around the locker room periodically screaming at folks to remind them of the very serious business at hand. Bacari Alexander will almost assuredly manage to incorporate a Lincoln corn maze into an elaborate pre-game motivational ploy.

Michigan will need to live by the college basketball mantra of TISNSTAAFW: There Is No Such Thing As A Free Win.

With that said, Nebraska is a pretty horrible basketball team. They are 11th in the conference, having dropped off a bit after a relatively successful 2010-11 campaign, in which they went 19-13 before deciding to get out of Dodge for the greener, Velveeta-rich pastures of the Big Ten. The Huskers are 11-11 (3-8), with conference wins over PSU, Indiana, and @Iowa. Unless the Huskers go on a tear, they will not even be on the NIT bubble.

Nebraska HC Doc Sadler, somehow didn't parlay that name into a 
 in spaghetti westerns
(Mary Langenfield, US PRESSWIRE)
Going .500 in conference would ostensibly get Michigan in the Big Dance (obviously you would hope that they do more than the bare minimum), and wins against the dregs of the conference--Nebraska today and PSU to end the season--would accomplish just that. This is another one of those "must win because you're playing somebody terrible and can't afford to lose" sort of outings.

*"The Mugging in East Lansing" definitely sounds like it could be a straight-to-DVD thriller featuring Liam Neeson neck chopping every single person in East Lansing as revenge for something something.

The Offense
Statistically, Nebraska isn't as bad on defense as you might have imagined. They are giving up a respectable 64.8 ppg (only 8th best in the conference but 110th nationally), but, as usual, tempo has a major role to play in making the numbers not reflect a harsher reality. Only Michigan and Wisconsin play at a slower pace; the Huskers take care to not be hasty. Although the Huskers were actually pretty good through the first 6 conference games, they have been giving up 76.2 ppg through the last 4.

Sadler is a defense first coach, and there's little doubt that the Huskers will be prepared for Michigan's backdoor cuts and 3-point shooting after taking on Northwestern last week. However, the Huskers don't really don't really seem to do anything exceedingly well. They are a middling to below average steals and blocks team, averaging 6.6 and 3.1 per game, respectively, putting them near the bottom third of the conference in both. Point guard Bo Spencer (an LSU transfer who sat out the 2010-11 season), leads the team in steals (1.4 spg), so Trey et al will still need to be vigilant on the perimeter. Basically, all of this suggests a high-effort team that doesn't really do anything flashy but protects its defense by slowing the game down as much as possible. From what I've seen, they do play some zone, and we should expect to see it if Michigan proves that they can't shoot their way out of it.

Nebraska trots out a starting five of McCray, Ubel, Spencer, Richardson, and Walker, i.e. 4 guards and one big (Ubel). Other than Ubel, who is listed at 6'10'', they have very little in the way of size, as the other guards are 6'6'', 6'4'', 6'2'', and 6'0''. Nebraska's other big, the 6'11 Jorge Brian Diaz, looks to be out for the year, and he did not play in Nebraska's last game (a home loss against Minnesota). He was averaging about 2 blocks per game and 8.6 points, so that is a not insignificant loss. Other than Morgan on Ubel, there won't be any significant size disadvantages. I'd like to see Novak get some time at the 3 with Smotrycz at the four; for some reason I feel like this game could be a funk-breaker for Evan.

Otherwise, Spencer is a senior that should provide a solid challenge for Trey, but is far from unbeatable. This Nebraska team has such little size and depth that this should be one of only a few games in which Michigan will see some offensive rebounds come their way. The Huskers have quite literally rebounded the ball as many times as their opponents have (well, almost--693 to 692 on the season), giving them a tidy but not very good rebounding margin of .0 (Michigan is at .4). They average 9.3 offensive rebounds a game, half a board better than Michigan's turrible 8.8 per. So, these teams are very similar vis-a-vis their relative rebounding prowess (i.e. neither team is good at it).

The Defense 
Michigan isn't exactly lighting up on the scoreboard, but the Huskers are averaging an anemic 62.2 ppg (second worst in the conference). The aforementioned Bo Spencer and 6'6'' Toney McCray--who figures to be Stu's matchup--are the only two averaging double-digit points (15.5 and 10.5 ppg, respectively). The rest of the starting--Richardson, Ubel, and Walker--average 7.4, 6.2, 6.7 per game, and Dylan Talley comes off of the bench averaging 9.1 ppg, good for third best on the team.
Bo Spencer, 3-point shooting enthusiast

As expected, the Huskers are not a threat from 3 (32.6% as a team, good for 10th in the conference). Talley and Richardson shoot it respectably well (35% and 39%), but Spencer shoots by far the most 3s on the team and seems to not be very good at it (31% on a whopping 130 attempts, less attempts within the conference than only John Shurna, THJ*, D.J. Richardson, and Ryne Smith).

There's not much to say here other than Michigan simply needs to lock down and play solid defense. Nebraska doesn't shoot the 3 well, produces second chances at a lower rate than we do, and doesn't really have a dangerous post-up guy. Spencer is a solid player but doesn't seem to be very efficient, which is understandable given that this is a team with not all that much pure scoring ability. The only way I see Michigan getting owned here is if Spencer decides to go all Brandon Paul on us and Michigan hands them points via turnovers. Otherwise, Nebraska's probably only scoring anywhere from 55 to 63 or so.

*Sad face goes here.

Who/What To Watch 
  • Burke vs. Spencer on the defensive end. 
  • Smotrycz vs. his own debilitating lack of confidence. Nebraska's lack of size, athleticism, and general what-have-you combined with a gut feeling of mine makes me believe that Smotrycz will have his best game since the non-conference ended. 
  • Nebraska opponents having been shooting the 3 at 33.9%, which is not too far from Michigan's team average of 34.5%. If Michigan can shoot in the vicinity of their average, I have a hard time seeing Michigan dropping this game. 
Meaningless Prediction 
Michigan's struggles on the road are well-documented. You know they are because I spent a non-zero amount of seconds thinking about the outcome of this game. With that said, Nebraska is not very good. They're not even on Iowa's level (despite beating them), who handed us an ugly road loss not too long ago.

Michigan will bounce back nicely, with Smotrycz pitching in a surprise 13 points. It won't necessarily be pretty given the pace these teams play with (or lack thereof), but I think Michigan gets the job done on the road. Michigan 65, Nebraska 59. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 2/7/2012

First, A Sad Note: Maybe I missed this, but I haven't really seen any discussion of this around the Michigan corner of the Internet (it's possible I missed it). Junior Hemingway's home was burglarized Friday morning, and among the lost items lost are jerseys and bowl rings from Junior's time at Michigan. It's simply bizarre that somebody is currently running around with things that took a lifetime of hard work for somebody to acquire.


A month ago, Junior was crying at the podium. Little bits of colored paper fell. It was the perfect ending to a 5-year journey, the type of storybook ending so purely good that it escapes even cynical accusations of melodrama. Last Friday served as a reminder that this is still a world where bad things happen: randomly, inconveniently, senselessly.

I don't want to get into the psychology of theft (there might not even be any "psychology" beyond "this is a thing I can steal and turn into money"), but the most absurd part of the whole thing is that the thief left the Sugar Bowl MVP trophy, which was lying on the coffee table, unobscured and prone.

Less Saddening News: Michigan gained its third commitment of the new recruiting cycle in the form of Detroit Crockett TE Khalid Hill. He is yet to be ranked by any of the three main recruiting services, but, he is coming to us from the same high school that Brandon Graham did, so that's nice.

"How am I supposed to determine how happy or sad I should be without STARS, guys? I mean, as far as I'm concerned he might as well not even be a real person without a star ranking. HOW DO WE EVEN KNOW HE EXISTS?"-People who follow recruiting

So, yes, a tight end. Who knows how good he will be, but at minimum this commitment partially fills a position of need that will actually become important going forward. TOUGHNESS. TREMENDOUS. TIGHT ENDS. This is Ann Arbor, and this is what we (now) do.

Meanwhile, In Iowa: Kirk Ferentz is likely nervously chewing the heck out of some gum somewhere as he sits in his office, hiding under his desk while trying to determine how he will remedy the whole "not having coordinators" situation. Former Michigan assistant Soup Campbell is a name being thrown around for the OC position, but the buzz around the DC spot is more interesting in that one Jim Herrmann is being mentioned. Yes, that Jim Herrmann. Could you imagine a more Kirk Ferentz thing to do than this? Ferentz would covet somebody that was last considered a good thing in 1997. Kirk Ferentz is the Des Moines of football coaches.

I can see it now. The scene: Iowa City, some fall Saturday in 2012. Iowa leads late in the game but has just elected to punt from its opponent's 34. Ferentz furiously chews the same piece of sugarless gum he's been chewing since 1999, the mustachioed Herrmann standing next to him. He rushes 3 time after time, cordially conceding--nay, aggressively allowing--yardage to be gained, points to be scored, and the happiness of all that are present. End scene.

I have a feeling that this is just too perfect to be true; therefore, it won't happen. From a more general, conference-wide perspective, this would be another development on "the Big Ten is slowly reverting to the 1970s order of things" front (i.e. as top-heavy as Dwight Howard). With PSU and Iowa seemingly headed for tough times, Wisconsin's unimpressive recruiting haul despite going to two straight Rose Bowls, and the rest of the conference, save MSU, being generally mediocre...I have a feeling there might a much larger percentage of fairly uninteresting conference games the next few years or so.

Things That Are Surprising: The stodgy Big Ten might, just might, be leading the charge of change (emphasis is Hinton's):
Sources told the Tribune that a Big Ten plan would remove the top four teams from the BCS bowl pool and have semifinal games played on the college campus of the higher seed.That would do away with the facade of "neutral" sites such as New Orleans, Miami and Pasadena, Calif., and ease travel concern for fans.
Of course, these are "words, words, mere words," as some really emo guy once said. The whole "SEC/PAC 12 teams coming to the Midwest in December" thing is particularly appealing. Of course, the SEC contingent will protest this indignity. Whenever this scenario comes up I recall the Miami Hurricanes players bundled up like they were playing on Hoth for the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin, which was played in...49-degree Orlando. Good times. I generally avoid the comment sections of articles on big sites like Yahoo, but I couldn't help myself here. A couple were essentially equivalent to "PAWWWLLLLLL THEM YANKEES ARE SO DUMB THEY AIN'T GOT THAT DOME TECHNOLOGY LIKE WE DO."

Whether it's 4 teams or 8 or 16, there will always be somebody with a grievance to air. I'm of the opinion that any playoff that allows any more than 8 teams to compete for the title would be excessive. You can't please everybody, but I think everybody can agree that there needs to be something different than what is currently in place. That consensus needs to be reached amongst the People In Charge, so it's nice that Delany of all people is the one saying this. Again, though...words. A little less conversation, a little more action please.

Things That Are Not Surprising: The almighty dollar ruling the day vis-a-vis college football affairs
The move would essentially prohibit schools from scheduling games like last season's LSU-Oregon matchup at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. Cases such as the upcoming USC-Syracuse game on September 8, 2012 at Met Life Stadium would be permissible because they are the Pac-12 team's away game in a home-and-home series while matchups like the UCLA-Texas game in 2014 would no longer be allowed unless the Longhorns agreed to come to Los Angeles.
Larry Scott is undoubtedly sliding down a water slide made of gold bullion into a pool of hundred dollar bills, and good for him and the PAC 12. However, anything that eliminates the possibility and/or feasibility of new, exciting non-conference matchups is a net negative. I know that Larry Scott has to look out for his conference's coffers, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

You know, it's times like these that I actually sort of miss the Bowl Alliance days. Teams weren't afraid to go play other teams outside of their respective regions, bowls games were yet untainted by the plague of awkward sponsorships, and the system itself: a) wasn't even a "system" and b) didn't even pretend to provide a definitive and coherent end to a college football season. Unlike the BCS, at least it was an ethos.

More? Jon Merrill "eludes description"...as awesome as last season's turnaround was, this year's has been equally impressive and then some. Michigan gets OL prospect Dan Gibbs as a preferred walk-on; at 6'7'' 315 pounds, "Brobdingnagian" is probably the only adjective ridiculous enough to describe him. The "Do Your Job" slogan has apparently applied to everyone but Head Coach Bill O'Brien for the last month. The least surprising thing ever: John Calipari likes Nick Saban and Alabama football.