Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Northwestern WR Kyle Prater Ruled Eligible

In general Big Ten news, Northwestern wide receiver Kyle Prater, who transferred from USC, has been ruled eligible to play this season, a decision from the NCAA which Wildcat fans have been anxiously waiting on for many months. Getting a guy like Prater would've been huge for Michigan, but for Northwestern he might as well be a literal fusion of Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, and Plaxico Burress in one DB-destroying form.

But seriously, this should be a big addition to what is somewhat surprisingly a very solid group of wide receivers, even after losing top receiver Jeremy Ebert to the NFL. Northwestern has a deep group, consisting of Demetrius Fields, Christian Jones, Tony Jones, and Venric Mark. Now, you can add Prater to the mix. Needless to say, Michigan's secondary depth will be tested. When NU spreads us out with four or five wide and Colter decides to run around, our linebacking speed will also be challenged.

A reminder: Prater is 6'5''. Considering that Michigan's corners are all very, very tiny, this could be a problem on November 10th when Northwestern comes to town. Kain Colter probably still won't be zinging it all over the field like he's Dan Persa just yet, but there's no doubt that he will probably have improved a decent bit by this November. If Michigan isn't careful this one could end up being the Inexplicable Conference Loss that was a regular thing under Lloyd.* FWIW, Christian Jones is 6'3'', Tony Jones and Fields are 6'0'', and Mark is 5'8''.

Prater was a 5-star prospect wanted by basically everybody, including Michigan. If he can contribute like his talent would indicate that he can, Northwestern might have a sneakily good offense despite not having a real solid option at tailback to take the load off Colter. It might be too early to officially dub this a trap game, but, you know, be wary. The Northwestern game, a week after traveling to Minnesota and the week before Iowa (and then Ohio State the next week), this could very well be one to watch

*You know, despite the fact that every Lloyd loss seemed like the "you shouldn't have lost to that team" variety"...the man still compiled a .753 winning percentage. Or, in Michigan Man parlance: UNACCEPTABLE.

ACC Coastal Preview: Rise and Fall

Already blabbered about: SEC West, SEC East

I took a look at college football's overlord, the SEC West, and the also impressive but not quite overlord-y/more Darth Vader-esque right-hand man that is the SEC East last week. This offseason preview effort in the weeks leading up to fall camp that isn't a complete waste of time that nobody will read no not at all now shifts its focus to the nebulous yet mostly static world of the ACC.

As you probably know, the conference's very existence has come under fire this offseason. With the New World Order that is the much clamored for by bloggers college football playoff coming into play, John Swofford had to make some sort of moves to keep the conference afloat as the flotsam and jetsam of college football shifted conferences with alacrity. This was an especially urgent situation, as various college football folks, in lieu of all the playoff debates, built up the viability and/or necessity of the eventual existence of four superconferences to rule them all. With the Big Ten, Pac 12, and SEC being stable, intact, and ready for the new college football order (and the Big 12 having seemingly survived the departures of Texas A&M and Missouri by adding WVU and TCU), the ACC was in a precarious position: it was perhaps just a step or two away from potential irrelevance.

The ACC added traditional basketball powers Syracuse and Pitt last fall, but they won't be joining the fray until 2013. For now, the ACC is still a player, as the BCS still has two more years to go before it is finally put down forever. However, after that point, things become much murkier for the ACC.

More importantly, for all the criticism that the B1G gets for not performing at the BCS level and not producing teams that can compete for and win a national championship, the ACC has been much, much worse. After the Virginia Tech and Clemson losses this past bowl season, the ACC dropped to 2-13 in BCS games. For some perspective, if you count Ohio State's vacated Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas, the B1G is 12-13 in BCS games, a record which hardly seems so bad when juxtaposed with the ACC's mark. With Miami and FSU not being what they once were, Virginia Tech has carried the banner for the ACC. As a fan of college football, I really enjoy watching the Hokies play (the Sugar Bowl only increased this appreciation), but they have consistently been just a cut or two below the quality of a true national contender.

Probably not about to be sacked due to being, you know, not that much smaller than RVB,  A STRONG SIDE DEFENSIVE END. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Way Too Early Expectations-o-Meter: Matt Vogrich

People I've already talked about: Tim Hardaway Jr., Jordan Morgan

Today we shift back to the back court, to the offensively one-dimensional yet sneakily grit-tastic Matt Vogrich, the pride of Lake Forest, IL (sorry Tommy Rees).

NB: I didn't think of this until now, but I'm probably just going to do these previews for guys that are returning from last year. Of course, the 2012 class will be major contributors, especially given the turnover that Michigan has had (losing Novak and Douglass to graduation and also losing Smotrycz, Brundidge, and Christian to more playing time elsewhere). With that said, a "preview" post for Mitch McGary et al would just end up being a useless collection of Rivals/Scout links and pointless highlight videos. There's no point in wasting your time on redundancies like that so let's just keep talking about players we are already familiar with and can speak out with some level of authority.

GRIT. 

Career To Date 
I feel like I say this all the time, but man I cannot believe Matt Vogrich is a senior. Actually, I'm fairly certain that I say this every time I talk about a senior player in any of the Michigan sports I follow closely: once you find yourself saying this on the reg, you have proof positive that you are getting old. As we all know, time speeds along faster and faster the older you get, which I guess is a good thing if you're trying to get through the horrid thing we call The Offseason (that's right, it merits capitalization).

To be honest, Vogrich's recruitment at this point is a vague thing to me, so I checked his Rivals profile and was somewhat surprised to see some of the schools on his offer list. He was a generic 3-star, the type of 3-point gunner that John Beilein craves like plants crave Brawndo. It's science. Other than Michigan, Vogrich received offers from basketball names like Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Stanford, among several other lower level offers. So, it's not like he was just some guy like Zack Novak, whose second best offer after Michigan came from Valparaiso.

As a high schooler, Vogrich averaged 16.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, which is also somewhat surprising given the fact that his offensive game at the college level hasn't materialized much at all yet thus far. Obviously, he came in with the hype of a deadly shooter from outside, but you don't average those numbers without being able to do a little more than shoot the three. Of course, high school is a different game: even the college spot up shooter can do some things on the bounce.

As a freshman, Vogrich played only sparingly, averaging 5.5 minutes per game. During the 2009-10 season, however, he did shoot 39% from beyond the arc, lending credence to the notion that he could in fact be the Mike Gansey-esque gunner specialist that Beilein had been searching for. In 2010-11, Vogrich nearly tripled his minutes, averaging 14 per game while also shooting 39% from 3 yet again. He even upped his percentage from the field overall, going from 40.5% to 42.9% from his freshman to his sophomore year.

We knew that Vogrich would be coming off the bench likely throughout his entire career, so expectations at that juncture--after his sophomore year, that is--were fairly reasonable. He would come off the bench and take a few shots, hit a couple threes, and contribute some general grit. He displayed a surprising ability to pick up rebounds despite only being 6'4'' and not much of an athlete, a facet of his game which inspired me to dub him Diet Novak last season.

Then the 2011-12 season happened, leaving us with some questions about what to reasonably expect out of Matt Vogrich.


Last Year 
In light of his 3-point shooting percentages during his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, it would not be unreasonable to posit that his performance from 3 last season was somewhat of an anomaly. Vogrich's percentage took a nosedive, dipping all the way down to 30%, a number which would be below average for a guy who is not a 3-point specialist, let alone for a guy who ostensibly is one.

With that said, his minutes also took a bit of a nosedive, going from the aforementioned 14 per game to 10.7 per last season. It might seem like an insignificant difference, but for a guy like Vogrich, this sort of decline in deployment means the world. It goes without saying that a guy whose offensive game depends almost entirely on the 3 will suffer when he doesn't see the floor a much.

As a Chicago Bulls fan, I saw the same sort of thing play out with a much better 3-point shooter in Kyle Korver. Korver, despite shooting an excellent 43.5% last season, often had off nights. Given the Bulls' prowess on the offensive glass, I distinctly remember several possessions during which Korver would clank a 3, only to get a second chance after an offensive rebound only to clank another one. Korver was also a defensive liability, so when the 3s didn't fall, his presence on the court became a net negative. This, in short, is the plight of the 3-point specialist. When the so called "rhythm" that commentators allude to so often isn't there--a notion which is generally directly correlated to playing time--the specialist becomes someone that you don't want on the court. It essentially becomes a situation where you are playing 4 on 5 when that person is on the floor.

The same could be said for Vogrich last season. We have already seen him shoot the 3 in a way that would make Rick James from Dave Chappelle's E True Hollywood Story sketch blush. However, in limited minutes last season, he would often get on the floor, miss his only one or two threes, and that would be it.


Things That Were Good 
Of course, things weren't all bad for Vogrich last season. Against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, he dropped 11 points on 4-7 shooting (3-5 from 3). In only 11 minutes at Nebraska, he scored 9 points on 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc, a game which could have potentially been close if did not pitch in in the way that he did.

In a big home win against Illinois, Vogrich put up 8 points on 3-3 shooting (2-2 from 3); Michigan won that game by 9, FWIW.

In Michigan's second thrilling OT victory against Northwestern, Vogrich put up 9 points on 3-6 from 3, an obviously important game for him, played less than an hour away from his hometown of Lake Forest. He hit two big threes in the early going to held build Michigan's lead (which was of course squandered by halftime), and then hit a third to put Michigan up by 1 with just under 9 minutes to go. It's easy to forget such contribution on a team headlined by guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, but these subtle contributions are often the difference between winning and losing in close conference tilts.


Things That Were Bad 
This section will probably be mostly redundant, but Vogrich failed to make an impact in several Michigan losses. At Iowa, Vogrich went 0-1 from 3 in 18 minutes, which can partly be attributed to the nature of that performance for the team as a whole, particularly the offense's propensity to break down if Trey Burke isn't functioning at peak levels or if the pick and roll is being stonewalled.

Otherwise, just scan his game log for yourself: it's littered with 0-2s from 3, which unfortunately was the standard Vogrich stat line last season. I get the feeling that I'm being almost unfairly negative here, so, to reiterate: it's very difficult for a player like Vogrich to make a difference with consistency when he's only putting up 2 shots, at most, on any given night.

The question becomes: what do you do about it? I'm not sure that Vogrich is an integral cog to the point that he should be asked to "keep shooting", as is often told to 3-point specialists when they are struggling. If he doesn't hit one of his first 2 or 3 shots, it's very difficult to justify that sort of advice, as much as I or any other Michigan fan would love to see him become that 3-point shooter that we all want him to be.

Maybe things will change this season, but Vogrich does not strike me as a guy like Novak or Douglass, players who were predominantly 3-point spot up guys for their first three seasons before the desert bloomed last season when they displayed an ability to make a difference on the bounce and in the mid-range game.

If Vogrich Was A Literary Figure 


Harper Lee. Kind of a one-hit wonder. His ability to write To Kill A Mockingbird shoot the three early on in his career inspired visions of greatness in many, visions which only gave way to a not so gradual fade into obscurity. Is he, like Harper Lee post-TKAM, done writing shooting the three at the level he once did?


Things That Would Be Prettyyyy Prettyyyy Prettyyyy Good

  • Justify more minutes. As I mentioned, pure minutes played is a big issue for a guy like Vogrich. Getting on the floor more often--for instance, something in the neighborhood of the 14 minutes per game that he logged in 2010-11--necessitates doing other things other than 3-point shooting. 
  • GRIT. This has been a positive in Vogrich's game that has nothing to do with outside shooting. He hasn't exactly racked up eye-popping rebounding numbers, but I've found myself fairly surprised with his ability to pull down the occasional offensive board or two despite his obvious physical limitations. This is one of those aforementioned "other things" that Vogrich can do to get more minutes and, consequently, have more of a chance to get in a rhythm. Like major league hitters, 3-point specialists are creatures of habit and repetition. 
  • Yeah, 3-point shooting. For the millionth time, Vogrich needs to make good on his few attempts per game. This again is a nod to the point I made about Jordan Morgan finishing around the basket and the Ray Ratto "just win the game" reference. I'm not sure that there was anything explicitly off with his mechanics, footwork, etc. He just needs to make them when he gets the chance, which is unfortunately a difficult task given his overall lack of usage and his ancillary role on this iteration of Michigan basketball. 


OFFICIAL EXPECTATIONS FOR SOMETHING THAT'S FOUR MONTHS AWAY 
FROM STARTING 
Michigan will likely have a team capable of winning the conference whether or not Vogrich returns to the form that he showed during his first two seasons. With that said, having a guy that shoots 40% from three, despite being very low usage, would be an incredible boon for a team that no longer has Zack Novak and Stu Douglass to rely on from outside, in addition to THJ being decidedly erratic from outside and Trey being approximately adequate from there as well. Luckily, Michigan does have reputed 3-point gunner Nik Stauskas coming in, but in a system like Beilein's--and today's college basketball world, generally--you can never have too much quality 3-point shooting.

I'm having a hard time getting a handle on what to expect from Vogrich this season. With Stauskas figuring to be a major component of this team, Vogrich's 3-point ability might be somewhat marginalized. Similarly, with THJ moving to the two (although I have always been somewhat skeptical of the rigidity of these number/position designations), minutes may be hard to come by in any greater number than they were last season.

Regardless, I think that Vogrich will prove that last season was somewhat of an outlier. He is a good shooter, period, and I'm confident that if he was playing for another team where minutes were more available, he would be able to show that on a more consistent basis. I think that Vogrich will see the court a little more than last season, and his percentage will climb back up to respectability. His 30% mark last season will be proven to simply be a convergence of bad luck and lack of run...I think somewhere in the range of 34-36% is a reasonable expectation for Vogrich in 2012-13.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

Only one item of self-promotion this week:
  • I wrote a few words about Michael Schofield, he of the relocation from LG to RT. Strangely enough, he has morphed into, by my reckoning, Michigan's second best offensive lineman after starting last season as Michigan's 6th man. 
----
Elsewhere: 
  • The above is exactly what you expect it to be: tremendous. SYNCHRONIZED SMUGNESS!
  • I remember being in a Nike store in NYC one time and seeing one of those shirts with various swaggy phrases emblazoned on the front. One of said shirts read "Lazy But Talented." I tried to figure who in the world would buy such a shirt. New Chicago Bulls signee Marco Belinelli would buy such a shirt (see the comments). 
  • Lake The Posts on Northwestern's new look from Under Armour. It's kind of mystifying how these sorts of posts often yield wayyyy more comments than posts about actual football, but that just goes to show you...actually, I don't really know what that shows you. People are weird? You probably already knew that, though. 
  • BREAKING: Devin Gardner will play wide receiver this year, Joe Schad confirms. Okay, not breaking (and not Joe Schad, although it could be, couldn't it?), obviously, but it's the first time that Hoke has referenced it directly as opposed to going wellllllll or engaging in MC Escher-esque run on sentences that never really begin or end but just kind of feed into each other into perpetuity and before you know it the interview is over and nothing has really been said at all. So, yeah, Hoke said it. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

SEC East Preview: All Quiet on the Eastern Front

After taking a look at the SEC West on Monday, it's time to take on the other half of the conference.

Prologue
The SEC East has had a bit of a rough go of it as far as its top powers go the last few seasons. After Tim Tebow's Florida team took two national titles in three years (well, the 2006 team wasn't "Tebow's team", obviously), things started to go downhill after 2009, when Tebow's Gators fell to Alabama in the SEC title game. If I was ESPN, I would probably attempt to prove a causal relationship between Tebow's graduation and the SEC East's decline thereafter, and I would engage you in a debate ring constructed completely from circular logic, moronic statements, and needless shouting.

Luckily, I am not ESPN, so I'll take about things that actually matter, like football and stuff. The Tennessee Volunteers under Phil Fulmer were kind of Michigan's SEC doppleganger for years: a school depending largely on out-of-state talent, long and storied traditions, and a conservative coach with a national title to his name but also the tendency to "underachieve" from time to time (in the minds of completely rational and not at all overly demanding fans). The Volunteers eventually had to cut ties with Fulmer after a 5-7 2008 year...then Pandemonium truly broke lose in Knoxville. Lane Kiffin happened. I say that he "happened" because it was like his tenure was just one really long second; he was there for a year, hanging out in Tennessee's front lawn at 11 p.m. before deciding to ding dong ditch and run back to California. Enter Derek Dooley, who in three seasons at Louisiana Tech amassed a 17-20 record.

Thus far, things at UT haven't gone much better. Dooley has gone 6-7 and 5-7 in his first two years, resulting in the expected "AHHH NEPOTISM IS STUPID AND TERRIBLE" and "AHHH HOT SEAT" type sentiments. Tennessee's football program is definitively stuck in a RR-esque quagmire, one that they may not get out of unless Dooley is let go. Either way, this appears to be a make or break year for Dooley: if the Price Is Right Wheel of College Coaches' Fate lands on a number that puts them over a dollar, Dooley is gone and UT will be searching for a new HC once again.

One of the SECE's other traditional powers, Florida, has fallen on some hard times as well. After a mediocre post-Tebow year in 2010 and health issues, Urban Meyer stepped down, leading to the hiring of Will Muschamp. Muschamp had led some tremendous defenses at both Auburn (including that 2004 14-0 team) and Texas under Mack Brown, so a HC job was coming his way eventually. It was by all accounts a good hire, but it's still unclear if the dreaded college coaching Peter Principle will apply. Last season was similarly mediocre, as the Gators struggled to put points on the board despite having a decided schematic advantage (which can now be found in a Lawrence, KS near you!). Still, he's only had one year in Gainseville, and the Gators are sure to improve upon their 7-6 mark last season.

The last of the East's name brands, Georgia, has also fallen on some relatively tough times. After starting with a preseason #1 ranking in 2008, UGA ended with a disappointing 10-3 mark. The next two years, UGA went 8-5 and 6-7, the latter season ending in a bowl loss to Central Florida. Keeping this in mind, UGA's 0-2 start to last season--including a loss to Boise State in ATL and then against South Carolina--really turned up the heat on Richt (in my mind, extremely unfairly, by the way). On the bright side, the Dawgs rattled off 10 straight wins before losing to LSU in the SEC title game and Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. Georgia brings back a talented team, particularly on defense, and a top notch QB in Aaron Murray. Georgia is set up well for another division title.

Otherwise, South Carolina has secretly built itself up into one of the more underrated teams in the country. After 5 years of 6-8 wins, the Gamecocks won 9 in 2010 (including a trip to ATL for the SEC title game) and an 11-2 year last season, ending in a thumping of Nebraska and an end of season top 10 ranking. Outside of LSU and Alabama, there are few teams playing better defense than South Carolina these days.

Kentucky is still Kentucky, proven by the fact that Joker Phillips seemed to talk about basketball just as much as he did during football during his SEC Media Day appearance. Vanderbilt is also still Vanderbilt, but now second-year HC James Franklin has quickly made a fan out of me. Expecting regular bowl appearances from Vandy might be unrealistic, but if anyone is going to do it, Franklin seems to be the man for the job.

Lastly, we have newcomer Missouri, who, like Texas A&M, will stick out like an elephant at a crocodile cocktail party.

Marcus Lattimore (via Saturday Down South

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Way Too Early Basketball Expectations-o-Meter: Jordan Morgan

People I've already talked about: Tim Hardaway Jr.

After starting with THJ in the back court, it's time to shift to the front court. Upon the graduation of the gritty warrior poets known as Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, Morgan officially assumes takes up the vacated title of "Not Superbly Talented But GRITTY Basketball Player Who I Will Endearingly Refer To As GRITTY and TOUGH Whenever I Talk About Him." So, let's talk about Jordan Morgan for a little bit.

Monday, July 23, 2012

SEC West Preview: Guess Who's Back, Back Again

As I've mentioned approximately 842 times within the last few months: there's not a whole lot going on right now. Michigan's fall camp won't be underway for a couple weeks, so this a good time to survey the vast and completely sensical landscape of college football that exists outside of the Big Ten's non-Rutgers-including-footprint. I'll still be working on the basketball player previews as well, but I'll also attempt to take a semi-thorough look at the other major conferences so that you can orient yourself and be well-informed at tailgates and other social functions in the coming months. I mean, is there anything better in life than being able to rattle off mostly useless college football information to your friends, who, in turn, are completely unimpressed impressed as a result? I don't think so.

I'm going to take a look at the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12, and maaaybe the Big East if I'm feeling charitable and/or have time. Probably not the Big East, though. Anyway, this week I'll start with the SEC, the recent dominion of ALL THE CHAMPIONS, Golden Flake potato chips, and the banana republic that is contemporary Tennessee football.

For the sake of readability, I'll divide this into multiple posts. Today, let's take a look at the SEC West, the toughest division in college football.

An SEC West football coach.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

First of all, before I get to the self-promotion...Carl Grapentine himself commenting on my post from last week means that I should probably just shut this thing down right? I mean, that's probably as good as it will ever get. Shut it down, let's go home.


I won't, but nothing cooler than that will probably appear in this space. Oh well. Self-promotion:
  • I wrote some nice words last week about my favorite Louisianan Wolverine (hint: he's the only one), Drew Dileo. I'm sure he will have some relatives at the Cowboys Classic, seeing as how--oh wait nevermind, Baton Rouge is 7.5 hours away from Arlington. Well, that's still road trip-able, I guess. 
  • Also last week, but I wrote a little thing about Michigan State, a thing which you've probably read before but bears revisiting: MSU is going to be good again, and will probably be pretty good for as long as Dantonio is in EL. 
  • I put in some words on Wisconsin football, including a brief discussion of the dark pre-Alvarez years, as well what Maryland transfer and Russell Wilson heir apparent Danny O'Brien and new OC Matt Canada might mean for the UW offense going forward. 

Way Too Early Basketball Expectations-o-Meter: Tim Hardaway Jr.

I've been following NBA free agency, not with glee or any sort of excitement or optimism, but complete despair. Nay, I am a Bulls fan, a fan of a team team run by a guy gunning for the coveted Fiscal Responsibility Championship as opposed to an actual title that is real and has meaning. The Bulls have almost completely depleted their bench, losing Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III, CJ Watson, and probably Omer Asik. The Bulls will also not bring back Brian Scalabrine, which is a crime almost as grave as Twitter hashtags sullying the Big House's artificial turf. Thus far, the Bulls have replaced the departing "Bench Mob"with Kirk Kinrich (which, as far as FA signings go, is basically like making a sequel of something instead of being creative and coming up with something original), Vladimir Radmonivic, and, it sounds like, Dark Milicic. With Derrick Rose rehabbing from the knee injury sustained during the playoffs and Luol Deng's wrist issues, the Bulls' situation for 2012-13 looks pretty bleak. Hello, lottery. Needless to say, this is not a basketball program to be excited about right now.

This is all a forced segue into something I am, in contrast, very excited about: that something is the 2012-13 University of Michigan basketball squadron. Unlike the Bulls, Beilein's Wolverines should be fairly deep and would seem to have few, if any, glaring weaknesses. They're experienced, talented, and eager to avenge what was a bitter end to the 2011-12 season.

It's been a while since the loss to Ohio (Ohio Ohio), so I've long ago come to terms with it and stopped losing sleep over Beilein deciding to allow Michigan to run the Kobe offense with Trey near the end of that game. It was not fun, but it's over. It was a sour final salvo to what was otherwise an awesome season. Insert your preferred verbiage here about the randomness of a single-elimination format and how it's all going to be okay because it's completely not even about wins or championships, you guys: it's about the game, having fun, and cracking joke about GRIT and TOUGHNESS. Everything else is just gravy.

In light of the stark dichotomy between my expectations vis-a-vis my respective basketball teams, I decided to take a look at what my expectations are for John Beilein's 6th Wolverine team. There's not much going on right now in this dead summer month before fall camp, and literally anything is better than talking about the NCAA's role in the PSU scandal, how the people in charge of college football are big dummies, and how there might not be anymore professional hockey played in 2012.

Since we are still about 7 weeks away from football and fall camp hasn't started yet, this is a good time to run briefly outline some expectations, player by player, for this 2012-13 basketball team. If I end up being right about any of these things, I'm going to turn into Phil Steele and just refer to my JAM-PACKED WITH FACTS correctness when I do these previews before next season.

Today, we'll start with the talented enigma that is THJ.



Career to Date
I'm going to reach back into my cultural worldview here, all the way to the fuzzy time known as "4th grade." Oh yes, I am in fact talking about Pok√©mon. If Hardaway's freshman season was analogous to Charmander (fire-breathing, a ferocity belying his youth/inexperience), his sophomore season was, naturally, very Charmeleon-esque: an awkward adolescent phase. Now, as we all remember, Charmeleon evolved into Charizard, who was pretty great. If THJ takes the proverbial next step in 2012, we're talking about a Charizardian winger, breathing fire all over the place and inspiring envy in fans of teams who do not have a Charizard card Tim Hardaway Jr. 

Last Year
Again, last year was sort of rough for THJ, one that led to a lot of recalibration when it comes to assessing THJ's abilities and/or future as a Michigan basketball player. Was his torrid freshman 3-point shooting (36.7%) a sort of extended fluke? Well, after shooting 28% last year, you would certainly not be wrong to think along those lines.

Otherwise, THJ's overall FG% remained roughly the same (42%). He averaged 14.6 ppg after dropping 13.9 ppg in 2010-11. He turned the ball over quite a bit more last season (66 turnovers last season vs. 45 during his freshman season). In addition to 3-point shooting, it became painfully obvious that his handles were not quite as crisp or world-destroying as we might have imagined them to be when he was still a freshman and we hadn't had enough time to objectively consider his abilities.

He got to the line more last season (4.4 FTA per game, averaging exactly 1 more attempt per than '10-'11), which was partly--well, mostly--a product of him simply having to create more with Darius Morris wearing purple and gold instead of maize and blue. For all of his abilities, Trey wasn't the facilitator that Morris was, but I'll address that when I get to it.

Things That Were Good 

Well, last season wasn't all bad, obviously. THJ flashed some of that freshman year Kobe-esque gunnery (the good kind, not the I'm going to take a million shots no matter what kind) here and there, although admittedly not as often as one would've liked. After non-conference play had ended, THJ was shooting 33% from 3; not exactly transcendent, but not completely terrible.

Then the wheels fell off during conference play. He went: 1/7 against PSU at home, 0/7 @IU, 0/8 @Iowa, 2/7 @OSU, 2/8 against IU at home, 0/6 @Nebraska, 2/9 @Northwestern...and so on. You get the picture. I realize that I'm not actually talking about good things, which is what this section is supposed to be for.

After Michigan took a weird thumping at home at the hands of a hungry Purdue team (Michigan's only loss at Crisler all year), the Wolverines traveled to Champaign to take on a desperate but dysfunctional Illini team. THJ went out and had the biggest game of his season, dropping 25 points and 11 boards. He was about as efficient as you could possibly be, going 6/7 from the field and a perfect 4/4 from beyond the arc. Additionally, he was a frequent visitor to the charity stripe, where he went 9/10. This is the game you point to from last season to say "why don't you do that all the time?" Of course, it's not that easy (plus, Illinois was sort of terrible).

Things That Were Bad
Well, I already said most of them in the last section, but...THJ had, shall we say, a deep-seated enthusiasm for the bad 3. Early shot clock, heat check, you name it. And, you know, I get it. As a gunner, it's frustrating to keep shooting, to have people tell you to keep shooting, and to know that you can hit from 3 because you did the year before, only to just keep missing and end up with a sub-30% mark on the season.

Other than that, THJ had trouble handling the ball at times. He had a tough time breaking his defenders down on the wing, and seemed to do much better off the ball when making slice cuts to the middle or attacking in transition, which Michigan did not find itself doing all that much as one of the slower teams in the league. Commentators keep joking about how "Daddy could never do that" whenever THJ flashes a bit of athleticism, but if there's one that that Dad has on him, it's a nasty, ankle-incinerating crossover.

 Last but not least, I fully believe that TJ could be a defensive stopper if he wanted to. There were numerous times when his effort didn't seem to be there, or he was simply being lazy with his footwork and focus. One example of a defensive gaffe that comes to mind came at the end of the first Northwestern game, when THJ fouled Alex Marcotullio beyond the 3-point line with Michigan up 3 and the clock just about to run out. Luckily, Marcotullio clanked the first of three attempts, but that sort of mistake just can't happen and is emblematic of THJ's occasional lack of defensive focus.

If THJ Was A Literary Figure. Franz Kafka. Often works in short, streaky bursts of fevered, prolific brilliance. Wildly divergent performance often makes one ask existentialist questions like "why am I a bug?" or "why am I shooting 9 percentage points worse from 3 this year?" Earlier work (The Metamorphosis, second half of the 2010-11 conference slate) is more widely known and praised than later material (The Trial, The Castle, 2011-12 season). His work makes you go both AHHHHH and AHHHHH, one in a good way and one in a very bad, frightening way.


Things That Would Be Prettyyyy Prettyyyy Prettyyyy Good

  • Be more efficient. THJ was 31st in the conference in eFG%, putting him in between two Hoosiers in the rankings (Oladipo and Watford). As a junior, you'd think that a hopefully more well-informed shot selection is in the cards. Either way, if Tim's going to be the First Team All-Big Ten that many think he can be, he needs to value the ball a little more. 
  • Less turnovers. His turnover percentage is not that awful when you look at it (14.5%), I guess, but it still seemed like THJ carrying the ball into the lane was just about a 50-50 proposition as to whether or not he'd turn it over or draw a foul. We know that Tim (and the rest of the team) has been working hard this offseason, so we can only hope that the offseason competitions and ball-handling drills will have an obvious effect come November. 
  • D up. Not much to expand upon here, but I'd like to see THJ bring it a little more consistently on D. He's still arguably Michigan's best athlete (GRIII sounds like his biggest competition in that department), and he has the ability to stick to the conference's best wingers if he wants to. For a guy that can jump like Tim can, it would be nice to see him hit the boards a little harder (he averaged 3.9 per game last year). I think he could make serious hay on the offensive glass; I wonder if Beilein decides to put a greater emphasis on the offensive boards now that Michigan has some depth in the front court? With the added size on the roster, Michigan doesn't need his rebounding as much, but I think he should be able to pick up a few more double doubles this season after notching two of them in 2011-12. 
OFFICIAL EXPECTATIONS FOR SOMETHING THAT'S FOUR MONTHS AWAY 
FROM STARTING 

I think that Tim's offensive output only improves a little bit, but not because he hasn't gotten any better. Michigan simply has more options in the front court, Stauskas and Vogrich will be taking their fair share of triples, and Burke will still be around being all high usage-y and awesome. Tim will also be a little more efficient than he has been, I think. THJ put up just under 15 a game last season, and most people would probably say that his sophomore year was a bit of a disappointment. If anything, that speaks to the somewhat unrealistic expectations that THJ's freshman year created.

As far as post-season recognition goes, I think that THJ is easily Second Team All- Big Ten with only minimal improvement. Otherwise, if he improves as I imagine he will, he will be First Team All-Big Ten this season and the undisputed top shooting guard in the conference (after having moved back from the 3, where he spent most of last season).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 7/18/2012

Jeremy Lin, money, and more money. This is only tangentially relevant, but MSG's--the Knicks ownership group--decision not to match the Houston Rockets' offer sheet for Jeremy Lin and the preemptive justification of this decision by MSG made me laugh and then reminded me of Brian's post from yesterday about the Rose Bowl: yes, in the end, it's all about the money. Sometimes certain stories pop up and for a little while make you believe that at least some infinitesimal portion of the experience is reserved for things other than money (pride, tradition, passion, etc.) Unfortunately, it becomes increasingly obvious that it is always about the money, 100% of the time, every time.

According to Chris Marangi, a portfolio manager at MSG's third-largest shareholder, Gamco Investors, Inc.:

“We like it when companies shop for bargains, and Ray Felton looks like a bargain compared to Jeremy Lin,” Marangi said. “We’re value investors.”
Like the people in change of running college football, it seems that the people in charge of decisions made my professional sport franchises are equally as out of touch and myopic. You could make an argument for the riskiness behind keeping a guy like Lin at that cost, but there were many more reasons in favor of keeping him.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that people who only care about money, besides not understanding how sports team work and operate, often only care about short-term returns. Without venturing into a rant about this being symptomatic of Knicks ownership's complete ineptitude since the beginning of the new millennium*, it's frustrating to see monied interests continue to be short-sighted, especially when it would seem against their own interests.

To be honest, I'm actually kind of shocked that this whole playoff thing even happened in the first place given the aversion to change among most people in sports with money and a position of power. This calls to mind the constant reference to how "the bowls have been good to us" by various Big Ten folks throughout these playoff negotiations.

Then again, it remains to be seen how different the new playoff structure will actually be; from were I stand, it seems as if it will be not that different.

*And I'm not even a Knicks fans (I'm a Bulls fans). So, really, this is actually a good thing, but my point still stands. James Dolan and whoever else was in charge of this decision are being extremely short-sighted at best and potentially petty and vindictive at worst (if rumors of jealousy within the organization coughCarmelocough are to be believed).

Tony Barnhart on Alabama's biggest losses. Tony Barnhart briefly addresses Alabama's significant defensive turnover and which players will end up being the biggest losses for Saban's Gradgrindian, buzzsaw of a defense. Alabama lost two starting corners from last season's team, first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. As such, Saban dipped into the nebulous pool of JUCO talent and emerged with two corners, Deion Belue and Travell Dixon:
Based on my last conversation with Saban, both Belue and Dixon will be ready to play against Michigan on Sept. 1.
"Our system is not as complicated as some people make it out to be," Saban said. "Both guys picked it up well, and I expect them to contribute."
The rule of thumb in the SEC is that you don't bring in juco players to sit on the bench.
 If there is a light at the end of the tunnel--as I mentioned in the Alabama preview posts--it's that Saban felt the need to grab not one but two JUCO corners. The Crimson Tide do return Dee Milliner, a former 5-star who has logged a significant number of starts in his own right, but it doesn't seem like Alabama has much in the way of experienced depth after Milliner. Either way, Belue and Dixon will definitely be on the field on September 1st, which should be a good thing.

Personally, I think that Mark Barron will prove to be Alabama's biggest defensive loss. The Tide lost a lot on the front 7, but they do return a lot of talent and athleticism. I do like Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix as players, but asking them to replicate Barron's play at strong safety in week 1 is asking a little much, IMO. Both are excellent talents receiving some of the best (if not the best) defensive coaching in the country, but if Al Borges and Michigan are looking for some potential weakness to target and play off of, the strong safety spot might be it.

Spencer Hall on Day 1 of SEC Media Days. You would think that I, a Michigan fan and alum, would feel above the notion of watching even one solitary second of SE Media Day coverage. You would think that, and you'd be absolutely wrong.

As much as I hate to say it, the B1G's collection of coaches are fairly bland compared to the SEC's, which can be good or bad, a dichotomy that directly correlates to how many people you've forced off of your lawn in the past year or so. If the answer is "a lot of people," then you probably find this to be a good thing.

Whatever your opinion on the matter, it's undeniably true that media days are infinitely more entertaining when coaches actually say things. After day 1, Steve Spurrier openly made fun of Ole Miss, Kevin Sumlin and Gary Pinkel spent much of their time at the podium being all "hey guys we've played competitive football before you know", and James Franklin literally made me want to put on helmet and tackle random people while quoting Shakespeare. It was an eventful day.

Instead of blabbering on any more, just read Spencer's account of the proceedings. It is very good.

True freshmen contributors: hopefully there are less of 'em. Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner run down the list of potential true freshmen contributors, debating an arbitrary O/U of 6. As Meinke notes, Michigan returned 14 starters and played 7 true freshmen in 2006 (Michigan returns 15 starters this year). I find it hard to believe that Michigan plays less than that number this year.

Pipkins, Darboh, and Chesson are the candidates that come to mind first. After that, Kalis and Bolden seem like pretty good bets (although I think that everyone would hope for a redshirt for the former). Dennis Norfleet should get on the field in some capacity. Safety depth is not exactly tremendous; Jarrod Wilson will probably see the field. An injury to either Kovacs or Thomas Gordon--KNOCK ON WOOD--and Wilson is becomes understudy #1 after Marvin Robinson slides into the starting lineup.

That's 7 already, and I'm sure there will be others. Devin Funchess and AJ Williams probably aren't ready to play yet, but Michigan's TE two-deep is pretty grim. Other than that, who knows. This isn't NCAA, so there will always be guys losing redshirts that you, the all-knowing fan, might not agree with. In any case, I think it's safe to say that the less true freshmen that end up playing, the better.

More? If you didn't know anything about this whole situation, you'd think that Mizzou's and TAMU's tackles were preparing to block literal forces of nature this fall...stinks to be them, PAWL. Darius Morris picture in the excellently named Laker blog Silver Screen and Roll captioned "No more turnovers!" FWIW. Ramon Sessions's departure means nothing with Nash coming in, and Darius still has to beat out Steve Blake for the backup spot.

Bill Carmody has been recruiting surprisingly well of late for the Wildcats...I'm starting to get behind this Northwestern team as one that can grab a tourney berth even in spite of John Shurna's departure. I agree with Lake the Posts; this team, somehow, seems deeper and better equipped to avoid those late season failures than in years past.

Although I almost stopped reading after the Ayn Rand reference in the beginning, this just about sums up the folly of the Knicks' decision to not retain Lin's services.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

INDISPENSABLE RECRUITING ITEMS THAT YOU COULD DEFINITELY NOT LIVE WITHOUT

As you are most probably aware, this blog takes the business of recruiting with the utmost seriousness. There is nothing that an adult male can do to better prove their fandom than to obsessively track the actions of high school kids, and, as such, this blog definitely doesn't maintain a passive-aggressive relationship with the world of recruiting. Recruiting is serious business, and Holdin' the Rope certainly treats it as such.

After filling up on bread early on in the recruiting cycle, Brady Hoke and Co. have slowed down a bit in recent months. The Wolverines' last commitment came on the 21st of June, and in the months of April, May, and June, Hoke has picked up a total of six commitments. Of course, July has netted zero commitments, and has mostly been marked by baseless speculation and Twitterized tea leaf readings for Michigan recruitniks. Luckily, with the help of Holdin' the Rope's newly launched recruiting coverage effort, you, Mr. Michigan Man, will no longer have to live in the lightless dark of recruiting-related ignorance.

With that said, it is times like these when the recruiting soothsayers of the Internet truly prove their worth. With so few spots left to fill, and the remaining prospects naturally becoming more and more secretive about their thought processes as we got closer to next February, reliable recruiting information can be difficult to find. How do we know whether or not to feel happy or sad about our lives when such little recruiting news is out there for general consumption? Who do we even know to believe anymore in this increasingly cut-throat and unethical world of recruiting coverage? Well, Michigan fans: trust me. As soon as we here at HTR find out about something, we'll be the first to relay that information to your through a filter of useless prevarication, passive-aggressive non-statements, and retroactive chest thumping.
---
First of all, let's get to the most pressing bit of news on the recruiting docket, news that HTR has acquired via weeks of sleuthing, interviews, and dedicated research and fact-checking. Are you ready? HTR recruiting scoop numero uno: within the next two weeks--maybe even the next two months or years--something is going to happen. That's right, folks, something is going to happen. As we say here at Holdin' the Rope whenever recruiting things are about to go down: fasten your safety belt.


Things are happening, we can promise you that. Now, for some added verisimilitude, here are some winking emoticons if you don't believe me by now. ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) Do you get it yet? Read between the lines. Whatever you're thinking right now, it's that. Yeah, that. 

Now that I've dropped this recruiting bombshell on you, replete with all the subtle winks and vague assurances that you crave, it's time to move on to the interview portion of this week's recruiting update. After tweeting at various prospects--most of whom ignored or blocked me--I finally was able to secure an interview with Generic Everyman, a 4-star prospect out of Normal, OH. Everyman has garnered offers from some of the most impressive football programs in the country, and would represent a big coup--a word which totally has more meaning in reference to recruiting updates as opposed to the toppling of oppressive autocracies--if Hoke were to acquire his commitment (especially as another recruiting victory in the Buckeye state). 

Holdin' the Rope: So, Generic, tell me about your recruiting timetable? Are you thinking about making a decision soon to get it over with or are you going to wait it out until Signing Day? 

Generic Everyman: I'd like to make a decision soon, but I've been getting a lot of offers and I still need to sort through them all. Plus, Dad says I can't decide where I'm going to play football until I do my chores and my homework. I also want to spend some time thinking up a good away message for 
AIM. *

HTR: Sounds like you've got your head on straight. You sound like a Michigan Man already. 

GE: Yeah. 

HTR: What are your thoughts on Brady Hoke? Is he the coolest? 

GE: He's a cool guy. He talked about the tradition and academics of Michigan. My parents really liked that. Academics are really important to me. 

HTR: Academics are important to you, that's great. So, who would you say is in your top 10 right now? 

GE: Michigan, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, FSU, Southwest Crocodile State, Chick-fil-A, Arkansas, Tumbleweed State, and hush puppies. 

HTR: Hush puppies? That's not even a school. 

GE: Yeah, I know. They're my favorite food though. They're soooo good. 

HTR: Haha! Yeah, they are! Speaking of favorite things, all Michigan fans want to know: what's your favorite movie and why? 

GE: 21 Jump Street is probably my favorite. The acting is just so good. I didn't believe that that fat guy and that other guy could be friends, but they were in the movie and I believed it. That's just crazy. 

HTR: It is. Any other favorites?

GE: Well, I really like old school movies. I'm like a movie historian. 40 Year Old Virgin is a classic from way back in 2005. I love watching old movies just to see how people were a long time ago. 

HTR: Yeah, definitely. It sounds like you weren't kidding when you said you were serious about academics. 

GE: Yeah. It's important to me. 

HTR: Shifting back to football, do you have any visits to Michigan planned before you make your decision? 

GE: Yeah, I'm planning on coming up in September to visit for a game. 

HTR: Where would you say that Michigan is on your list so far? 

GE: They're on there. 

HTR: Oh, really? [ed: ;) ;) ;)]. Are they in your top 20? 

GE: Yes. 

HTR: Any other big news coming up for you? Are you excited about your senior season?

GE: Yeah. 

HTR: Well alright, thanks for talking to us. Good luck this season. 

GE: Well, it's not like I had a choice after you called my house 34 times in a row at 3 in the morning and tweeted at me non-stop Thanks. 

*This template may be outdated. 
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Well, there you have it folks. To recap this week's edifying recruiting update: 
  • Things are going to happen soon. I can't tell you what those things are because there are rules, but, rest assured, the skies are looking very BLUE these days ;). 
  • Generic Everyman has Michigan on his top 20 list. He wants to make a decision soon, but he might not make his decision soon. He likes Michigan, but he also likes hush puppies and Chick-fil-A, so it may be tough to pull him away from the other schools on his list. Southwest Crocodile State emptied its endowment recently to add a Chick-fil-A to its student union; they may be the school to beat for Everyman's services. However, they might also not be the school to beat. Stay tuned. 
  • GE's favorite movie is 21 Jump Street. Junior Hemingway wore the number 21 and was the frequent target of jump balls last year: could this be a sign? This type of expert symbology can only be found here at HTR's recruiting wing...or a Dan Brown novel! Of course, comparisons to Dan Brown can only mean good things, as he is an excellent writer, one that this humble self-anointed recruiting guru respects greatly!
  • Academics are very important to GE and his parents. This obviously puts Michigan in the driver's seat, as the other schools either don't match-up academically or aren't even schools.  

Whenever anything happens, we'll let you know after the fact with vague allusions to the things that we knew but couldn't tell you before because something something!

Things to look forward to in next week's recruiting update: an update on that thing that's going to happen in either the near, medium, or distant future; we'll check back in with Generic Everyman to see how that geometry quiz went; and, lastly, we've got some exclusive news about some recruits who might be feeling blue...but not the "blue" that you might think! ;) Stay tuned and remember: fasten your safety belt, because your never know when recruiting things may or may not happen.**

**;)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Big Ten Mascots: The Untold Story

Yesterday, the mascots of the Big Ten joined the now well-entrenched craze consisting of making college football fans laugh/cringe via optical terror, also known as "singing and dancing to awful music." This craze has been birthed and propagated at places like Georgia, Missouri, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M (although, to be fair, the Aggies spared us their musical stylings in favor of complete obsequiousness). I'm afraid that there is nothing that can be done about this except to hope that a bunch of Michigan students don't make an awkward rap video centered around doing the "Hoke Walk" or something.


After breathing a sigh of relief at the fact that Michigan, yes, still does not have a mascot, I noticed two noteworthy absences: Northwestern's Willie the Wildcat and Purdue Pete. Why?, I thought. What could possibly be the reasons for such a noble and principled stand, particularly when nobility and principle have gone by the wayside in this age of increasingly NFL-ized college football? Luckily, I was able to secure an completely fabricated interview with these conscientious objectors. This is their story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Take The Field

I decided to venture down into the rabbit hole that is "looking at Michigan football videos on Youtube"--a venture which usually starts with Wolverine Historian and somehow ends with me watching highlights from some Clemson game in the 1980s while "Comin' to Your City" blares ironically but depressingly in a second window. Football: please come back.

Anyway, when I was writing that Samuel L joke for yesterday's post, I decided to search for videos in which Carl Grapentine's voice is easy to hear, just because I needed a reminder of what standard issue Grapentine cadence and diction might sound like. I found this one from the UMass game in 2010.

To make a long story short, I went ahead and searched his name and found the above video of him doing a morning radio show in Oak Park, IL (which I had no idea he did). In fact, I realized that I really knew nothing about Carl Grapentine other than the fact that he is the one who dispassionately yet masterfully narrates what takes place in the Big House on fall Saturdays.

I watched and listened; it's truly amazing how starved for college football you can really get. Here I was, watching a video of Carl Grapentine doing a morning show, detailing the day's weather and various developments in the news--Hosni Mubarak, at that point--and I could close my eyes and feel as if I was in the Big House. Mubarak steps down, the Egyptian people on the coverage. It's 3rd down and democracy. 

I swear, I watched the above video and for a second felt like I was in the Big House as Grapentine talked about the weather, African-American composers and performers, and Hosni Mubarak. Whether you like him or not...that's a voice. You and I talk and make noises that are generally consistent in pitch, loudness, and expressiveness, but that doesn't mean that we have a voice. Having a voice is about as inherent as having 4.3 speed, and that's why Grapentine does what he does.


Another point, one that I'm not sure that I like so much: watching this video was my first time seeing Grapentine in the flesh. I sort of enjoyed not knowing what he looked like. To this day, I still have no idea what Howard King looks like. In a way, knowing what he looks like kind of spoils things a bit, deconstructs a bit of the romanticism, I guess, like telling someone how a card trick works. His voice used to be an entity in and of itself, detached from corporeal reality, as if it literally came from up above. I think I'll survive, though.

I know there are some anti-Grapentine folks out there in the fan base. I'm not really sure why that is the case. To be quite honest, Grapentine is about as purely Michigan as a football PA guy could be. I've always thought his understated not-quite-detachment but not-quite-boorish-WHO-WANTS-FREE-PIZZAAAAA to be the perfect blend of dignity, emotion, and narration. Grapentine has a smooth NPR-ish voice, exuding class and maybe even a little pretentiousness (both linchpins of the Michigan Man's persona). It's a voice capable of providing the historical background behind whatever the MMB's halftime show is based on that day, while also saying "Touchdown Michigan" in just about as perfect a manner as possible.

It's no wonder that the NPR descriptor comes to my mind, as apparently others agree that he has a voice for radio. I had no idea...you learn something new every day. In any case, like the "master blues men," I hope that Grapentine will be practicing his craft in the Big House for many years to come. There are few things more rewarding in sports than the Big House crowd going wild after a Denard touchdown, with Grapentine waiting a few seconds to say those glorious words amongst the din: Touchdown Michigan. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 7/10/2012

Yes...this was a thing. 


Mediocrity and bygone memories. At this point in time, the Orange Bowl has lost its luster. It's MJ playing with the Wizards, and that is a very unfortunate thing indeed. Scanning the list of Orange Bowl games in recent years is a grotesque exercise. Even the 2006 Penn State-Florida State matchup--one which you'd think would be a firecracker of a game based on name brand cachet alone--featured a 4-loss Seminole team. To be fair, it did go to OT, and was a fairly exciting game. If anything, that game further confirmed that the difference between 1/2 (Texas and USC) and the next team, #3 PSU, was pretty significant. 2005: The Year That The BCS Accidentally Worked.

To make a long story short, the ACC courting perpetual free agent Notre Dame for an Orange Bowl tie-in, in one enormous melting pot of mediocrity. The ACC/the Orange Bowl game are kind of like the Cheesecake Factory: mindlessly uniform (everybody has 7 wins, everybody has the same mediocre, overstretched menu). Like the city of Charlotte--where the ACC title game has been held the the last two years after an embarrassing 2008 turnout in Tampa--ACC would rather be doing something else (i.e. playing basketball, while Charlotteans watch NASCAR).

On a related note, this isn't exactly a new thought, but: I wonder how long ND can continue to find itself being treated with kid gloves before the college football world just stops caring about them. I get the feeling that that might never happen, because after nearly two decades of mostly awful football, ND is still in discussions such as this one with the ACC. ND's privileged drifter status truly is one of the weirdest arrangements in sports. As Hinton notes, for any of this to even come into play, ND will need to win enough games:
Yes, that assurance could come at the expense of a mid-major outfit that can't promise a sellout or a huge TV rating, but old Notre Dame will never be handed a golden ticket based on echoes alone. Its current arrangement with BCSguarantees the Irish access to one of the big-money bowls if they finish with either a top-ten ranking in the BCS standings or nine wins in the regular season, hurdles they've managed to clear just three times in the Series' 14-year existence. Any deal with the Orange Bowl (or any other major bowl) is likely to come with criteria in the same vein, based on the selection committee poll that will replace the BCS standings.
As we have seen, this has been easier said than done, even with the 9-win clause built in for them. It's kind of irritating, but, when you think about it, the entire playoff process has revealed that it's all about the money. That thing that isn't money that you thought this was about just a little bit? Nope, it's not about that. A ND team that might not be great but provides a better turnout (i.e. a chance for a stadium to look somewhat full) than another team that is probably better but not as cash-flush...seems like a no-brainer for the ACC and the Orange Bowl. It's definitely needed, since I almost have no desire to watch the Orange Bowl these days, and I watched almost every pre-NYD bowl game this past season, so that should tell you something. Utah State-Ohio and San Diego State-Louisiana Lafayette were arguably more entertaining bowl games than every Orange Bowl game within the last five years.

PHIL STEELE IS VERY EXCITED ABOUT MICHIGAN. The Oracle that is Phil Steele has deemed Michigan one of a choice group of potential 2012 national title winners. I'm only mentioning this to highlight this part:
Steele used extensive statistical research from 24 different stat categories for all national title winners and contenders over the past 20 years to come up with his final list of 11.
His research looked at all past championship teams' wins and losses from the previous season, offensive and defensive numbers, turnover margin and schedule strength.
There's no way that Phil Steele is actually a living, breathing human being. Have any of you actually seen Phil Steele, like, walking around and stuff? No? Yup, he's a robot because Occam's Razor. Plus, if the BCS has taught me anything, a robot/computer agenda exists, and it is not to be trusted.

While I find Steele's most deployed construction of "if you'll remember that time I was right about this thing" to be amusing but kind of tiresome after having seen it for so many years, it's July; his analysis, JAM-PACKED WITH FACTS, is at least worth a scan. If anything, you have to respect that hustle.

UM-MSU rivalry fuel. A new book on an interesting part of Big Ten history is out, "Arrogance and Scheming in the Big Ten", by Dr. David J. Young (HT: Big Ten Blog). Man, I can't wait to find out who the arrogant ones in this yarn are! On a serious note, the 374-page tome details Michigan State's tumultuous entry into the conference in 1949 and our own evil, mustache-twirlingly arrogant attempts to keep them out. We're always the villains, it seems. Don't people know that calling us arrogant all the time hurts our feelings? We have them, you know.


In any case, this is a history that I am admittedly not that familiar with, so this seems like something that would definitely be worth a read. With that said, I just wanted to touch on this point:
Among many revelations, “Arrogance and Scheming” smashes the idea that the early 20th century was a time of rah-rah innocence for college football. Indeed, scandals and presumed scandals weaved their way through the Western Conference.
Do people actually believe that the early days of college football were any different than they are now? If anything, they were probably "worse," just with way less cash money coming out of the whole enterprise. If so, this thinking is obviously naive, perspective-less "the old-days-were-better" talk. That said, if the book is as well-researched and sourced as it sounds like it is--featuring extensive use of Michigan's own Bentley Library--it would appear to be required reading for the college football history buff, B1G fan or not.

Also, I didn't know this, but apparently UofM English professor Ann Curzan was selected as Michigan's faculty rep to the B1G and NCAA in February, which, as Rexrode's article notes, is fairly poetic. Curzan is the granddaughter of former MSU President John Hannah, who sparred with Michigan's own Ralph Aigler--Michigan's faculty rep at that time--throughout MSU's Big Ten admission struggle.

To all of that I say: MICHIGAN ENGLISH DEPARTMENT REPRESENT! WOOOO WE RUN THIS CAMPUS, Y'ALL. Hope you are all ready to see "Special K" ushered out in favor of Samuel L. Jackson-voiced audiobooks of Victorian literature, played line by line at key moments throughout the game.

Carl Grapentine: Maxwell's pass incomplete, intended for Sims, Thomas Gordon covering. It's third and ten. 
English Department-sponsored SLJ reading: IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES, MOTHERF*@#^%!

/Big House golf claps
//jingles keys

This needs to happen. Coincidentally, I'm pretty sure the opening words of A Tale of Two Cities represent the most perfect descriptor of Michigan's 3rd and long defense over the years.

Speaking of Michigan State. Bill C. has a great run-down of MSU's prospects in 2012, and to be quite honest, I have to agree with most of his assessment. Outside of Alabama and LSU, you could easily make an argument for MSU's as the next best defensive team in the country. No, I'm not talking about Michigan (although I suspect that Michigan will be very soon; 2011 was only the beginning of the defensive renaissance) here. I am no Nostradamus, and neither are you. Whether MSU's recent success is sustainable can be debated, but that's only because they've won a lot of games (22 in the last two seasons combined). You could debate the sustainability of that success for almost any program out there, including Michigan's. More importantly, it would seem that Dantonio has upped MSU's baseline significantly. If the Spartans fall off, they're probably looking at 7-9 wins and not the complete and utter collapse of years past.

If you haven't already, it' time to discard the silly "Little Brother" thing, because MSU will be very good again this year. To be honest, I have a gut feeling that Maxwell will be just fine at quarterback. Jerel Worthy is a bigger loss, IMO.

Bednarik Award watch list. This is tangentially connected to the last section, but here's the list of B1G players on the pre-season Bednarik Award watch list (the award given to the top defensive player in college football). Note that there are zero Wolverines on this list. For a program that is a favorite to win the conference and a lock to be pre-season top 10, the lack of "high end" talent sticks out like a fan being loud between the 40s in the Big House.

I can't wait until Michigan has well-coached blue chip talent on the defensive side of the ball again. That will be pretty neat. It seems ridiculous that Kovacs isn't even on this list given that Chris Borland is on it (honestly, I've never been all that impressed with him), but whatever. I'm not sure how much longer Mattison is going to be coaching, but I think it's safe to say that he'll be there long enough to see the 2011 and 2012 classes form the core of the defense.

Now, the tangentially relevant part: the Spartans have four on this list (Gholston, Adams, Allen and Bullough). A serious question: in the history of Bednark watch lists, has this ever happened (i.e. 4 Spartans and 0 Wolverines)? I would venture to guess probably not. In any case, this is one more "MSU is for real, you guys" piece of evidence.

More? UMHoops with a comprehensive look at Beilein's recruiting options for 2013 and beyond...as in, 2015 beyond. Burkhead fluff in SI. Lake The Posts on Drew Crawford and how he will need to take over in the post-Shurna era if the Wildcats are going to have a chance at getting that first tourney berth this season.

Speaking of the Bednarik watch list, Alabama has four defenders make the list: Nico Johnson, CJ Mosley, Jesse Williams, and Robert Lester. To reiterate the "MSU is for real" thing...MSU, LSU, and Alabama are the only teams with four defenders on the list.

Monday, July 9, 2012

RIP

Charles Drake, former Michigan safety, passed away this past Friday. He was 30 years old.

I was only in middle school when Drake wore the winged helmet for Michigan, so for me to attempt to say anything about his play on the field would seem foolish, not to mention incredibly unimportant. When I read the news, my heart sank.

Charles Drake: a name from the past, a ghost patrolling and striking your consciousness like a zone blitz, when you least expect it. His play on the field isn't important right now. What is important is that I--and hundreds of thousands of other Michigan fans--remembered seeing his name on the back of that Michigan jersey. He was a Wolverine. He was a part of my childhood as a young Michigan fan, just as every other Wolverine of that era was. So, when I read that he had passed, I was very sad, even while remembering very little about Charles Drake the hard-hitting safety and Charles Drake, the person.

I remember watching the NFL draft in 2003, during which Drake had been #1 on Mel Kiper's "Best Available" list for some time, with the draft was nearing its end. I kept wondering, worrying, whether or not he was going to get picked. He was picked, eventually, in the 7th round, and I remember feeling very good about that.

Without knowing the cause, it's nothing short of terrifying to hear that a player you watched as a kid has passed. Charles Drake was only seven years older than me. I don't need to tell you that this is all ephemeral, that the heroes of your childhood will go, no matter how entrenched they are in your mind as ideas impervious to the laws of biology. Rob Lytle, Vada Murray, Bob Chappuis, and now Charles Drake, have all passed on in the last couple of years. Each had a unique and rich history, each Michigan Men to the very end. Each brought something that was distinctly their own, and each took that something with them. I've mentioned this so many times, but if growing up has informed my sports fandom in any way, it's this: appreciate the players themselves, whether in victory or defeat. Not the results of their exploits, but how they go about things. Do they do their jobs with quiet aplomb or a cantankerous grimace? These make for better, more durable memories.

It is an inevitability, death, yet, in spite of this inevitability it seems to always be the last thing we find ourselves coming to terms with. I'm not sure that I will ever in my cease to be surprised or shocked to hear that a former player has passed on. Of course, to pass away at 30 is another thing entirely.

It is strange to feel as if you've lost a friend--family, even--upon hearing of the passing of someone you never knew. No matter how much we may or may not remember of a player's career, there is a shared Michigan experience that transcends petty boundaries, like the Big House brick wall dividing players and fans. That, I believe, is Michigan's essence, no matter how easy it may be to allow cynicism and irony to creep through at times. Michigan, as a concept, is more than wins, titles, enormous crowds, and even its indomitable traditions. It's about a grand, interconnected shared history, and in this way it is a bit of a double-edged sword.

When a Wolverine somewhere succeeds, whether on the gridiron or elsewhere, we feel proud, rejoicing as if the accomplishment was our own. We feel proud of the Wolverine in question, and we feel proud of Michigan, generally, the notion and the entity itself.

On the other hand, when a Wolverine passes on, it's as if a part of us has gone on too. I don't feel that it is too trite to note here that this is exactly the underpinning of the family, which, I strongly believe, is what Michigan is.

Memories can be summoned, but once the players, the people behind them are gone...they're gone. Forever, an eternity. RIP.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

This week in self-promotion:

  • I did a player preview type thing on Jack Miller, also known as "the redshirt freshman center who is dangerously close to the top of the depth chart." I'm a big Miller fan, but him playing a lot this year is probably not in anyone's best interest. 
  • I wrote a few words about Penn State football going forward, mentioning the names "Jerry Sandusky" or "Joe Paterno" a combined total of 0.0 times. This 2012 season at PSU is going to be one of the strangest in the history of college football. It will be awkward and tumultuous for so many reasons having nothing to do with football. 
--
Elsewhere: 
  • Putting Steve Nash on the same team as Kobe Bryant is kind of like putting Denard Robinson under center all the time. 
  • File this in the already bursting "reasons why paying more than a moderate amount of attention to recruiting is an utter waste of time" manila folder. It's like Nkemdiche is negotiating the terms of his contract scholarship, kind of like an NFL player...but that would mean that the NCAA's student-athlete model is an illusion! Surely this can't be true! Collegiate amateurism, where art thou?!
  • Read this or don't, but that's some top notch trolling in the title there, especially after Alabama just turned down the Badgers' home-and-home proposition. 
  • Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician on the new Orange Bowl deal with the ACC
  • Michigan Hockey Net compiles the depressing list of players that committed to Red's program only to opt out for the confusing, labyrinthine world of junior hockey. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 7/4/2012

A shortened post on this 4th of July. Happy Birthday, America. 


Trouba status. In light of Connor Carrick's decision to jump to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, thereby foregoing a longstanding commitment to Michigan, it would be understandable for the cynics among us to start doing the Letterman collar tug thing once various rumors started to pop up indicating that Trouba was next in line to be plucked up. Fortunately, Trouba reaffirmed his commitment to Michigan yesterday. You may downgrade your panic level from "Kel going 'aw here it goes'" to "faint but mostly unjustified concern because you are an Eeyorish Michigan fan and concern is your default state of being."

The Trouba family released the following statement via the the official Michigan hockey twitter
account :
"There is absolutely no truth or merit to the recent media reports that the Kitchener Rangers have offered Jacob any remuneration," the program wrote on behalf of the Trouba family. "We have the utmost respect for the Kitchener Rangers and those that choose the (Canadian Hockey League) as an option.
"But Jacob will be attending the University of Michigan next fall as a student athlete."
 So, there you go. This is the second time that Trouba has reaffirmed his commitment, the last time coming, IIRC, the day before the draft. Yes, Michigan has been burned many times before with these in these situations, but at this point it seems like we Trouba should end up manning the blue line in Ann Arbor this fall. I don't need to tell you that losing a top 10 draft pick would've been fairly devastating, not to mention the fact that Michigan will of course be breaking in a new goalie (always a precarious situation). If these rumors had proven to have some substance, it would've been time to bust out some punny yet saddening George Strait.


Northwestern basketball...recruiting? Yeah, it's early July. Bill Carmody landed 4-star (!) PG Jaren Sina on Monday, making this the second intriguing commitment to the NU basketball program in recent weeks (the first being the commitment of 7'2'' Chier Ajou a couple weeks ago).

Sina is a 2013 guy, so 2012-13 will still be the Sobocop show at the point. However, if Carmody can somehow survive this season, Northwestern could have something going. The bad news for Carmody is that SG Drew Crawford is a senior, and thus won't be around when Sina gets to Evanston.

In any case, this seems like a pretty big coup for a program like Northwestern's. Via Sippin' on Purple, Sina is a top 100 guy and is *probably* the first 4-star of the Carmody era...Carmody has been in Evanston since 2000. Sippin' on Purple:

Woo! And Rivals has his handle listed as being "outstanding". This is quite a get. Fred Hill was the lead recruiter, flexing his New Jersey muscles, and getting Sina to pick NU over Villanova, Rutgers, Stanford, and Pittsburgh. He had earlier committed to Alabama, but reconsidered and now will be coming to NU.
That is a very nice lookin' offer list, and from the sound of it Northwestern has quite a player on their hands.  If Michigan didn't have Trey Burke, I might be feeling a little bit jealous right now. It's always good to see the lesser recruiting brands in the conference reel in good prospects; hopefully this nets the Wildcats their first tourney bid at some point in Sina's career.

Hammer and Rails previews Michigan. TMill over at Hammer and Rails offers his thoughts on Michigan football after Year 1 of the Hokemania Experience. While I wouldn't exactly agree that last year's game was decided on "a couple of plays," Michigan will certainly need to put in a similar performance if this year's game in Ross-Ade is going to not come down tot he fourth quarter. TMill sheds some light on the defensive side of the ball for the Boilers, particularly in light of Michigan's prolific output in the ground game last year in the Big House:

Fortunately, I like our defense going into the year. The front four has the potential to be stout and both Will Lucas and Dwayne Beckford started really coming on late. This could be a game where the new 3-4 elements can make a difference. Robinson is the most elusive quarterback we will see all season. To have even a chance at a victory we must contain him.
 Like all road games, this will be a tricky one for Michigan, as this game is the Big Ten opener, right off  the heels of a prettyyyy prettyyyyy prettyyyy tough non-conference slate. In years past, this very well could have represented Michigan's "one inexplicable Big Ten loss of the year."

While I put the odds of this happening somewhere between "not gonna happen" and "so you're saying there's a chance?", a slip up here and Michigan could find itself with a 2-3 record to start the season. I'm going to go ahead and stop this section here and head to www.youtube.com to reassure myself that 2011 happened and that This Is Michigan.

More? Saban apparently turned down a home-and-home with the Badgers...oh well. Would've been pretty cool. Wisconsin and Alabama will go ahead and schedule North Dakota and Georgia State now, thank you very much.

This whole "star players playing for their rivals" thing that NCAA 2013 is promoting is starting to scare me. I'm sure the dialogue in that comment section is reasoned and enlightening. UMHoops has some Zak Irvin highlights for you. He can shoot the three and the mid-range shot well, he can slash...and he can dunk! In all seriousness, he looks like a big time talent at the 3. Given GRIII's versatility, it will be interesting to see how much run Irvin gets at the 3--which GRIII also plays--during his freshman season. I can't imagine that Beilein will struggle to find Irvin minute from the get go.