Monday, December 21, 2009

We bid thee farewell, Mr. Warren

Donovan Warren has declared for the NFL draft, much to the dismay of the Michigan faithful.

Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren has become the second Big Ten junior to declare for the NFL draft.

Warren, who had hinted he'd turn pro for quite a while, made it official on Sunday.

"I am confident in my abilities to play any receiver at the next level," he said. "I am hoping to be drafted in the first round."

What a disappointing 100th post.

At what point do we say: They just can't shoot

Despite Michigan actually holding serve with the #1 Jayhawks on Saturday, they once again had an atrocious shooting day (5-27 from 3-points; 24-67 overall). And had Michigan hit a few of those wide-open shots Kansas was affording all game, Michigan might've come away with a win. As it stands, they lost by just 11 points. What's worse, the defense looked acceptable and Kansas had one of their worst games of the season, opening the door for Michigan to steal one. But they didn't.

The real thing I'm interested in after this game is wondering whether or not this team can shoot. At what point in the season do we say to ourselves, "They're just bad at shooting". Much like the football team, when we had to painfully accept that they weren't very good and had the worst defense in the Big Ten, I think there has to come a time when we just accept that the players on this team aren't that good at shooting. Of course, I don't want to condemn all of them, but there comes a time when you have to just accept the facts: Michigan, through 10 games of the season, is shooting only 28% from outside despite taking about 40% of their shots from three.

Tim at MGoBlog wrote a piece last week about what happened to the Michigan outside game, but completely ignored the fact that Michigan might not be very good at shooting. He gives this chart to illustrate the problems:

Michigan 3-Point Percentages
2008-09 %
2009-10 %
Eric Puls
CJ Lee
Kelvin Grady
David Merritt
Zack Novak
Laval Lucas-Perry
Stu Douglass
Anthony Wright
Manny Harris
DeShawn Sims
Zack Gibson
Jevohn Shepherd
Matt Vogrich
Darius Morris

He then comes to this somewhat hopefully optimistic conclusion (emphasis mine):

So what does it mean? On the face, it would appear that Michigan lost most of its best shooters, but that isn't actually the case. Puls, Lee, Grady, and Merritt all had few attempts (Manny and the two Indiana guys were the only people to shoot over 100 3-balls, and LLP would have gotten there if he'd played the whole season), so there is something to be said for sample size. The better takeaway is that Only Laval Lucas-Perry and DeShawn Sims are shooting better right now than they did last year, and most guys have seen a precipitous dropoff...

Unless guys are exclusively taking horrible shots this year (and John Beilein said Wednesday that poor shoot selection may play some role in the shooting struggles), the bad shooting is an anomaly.

I wish he was right. He's not, at least not according to the numbers. To call this shooting performance an anomaly is to assume a) that players will shoot the same percentage year-to-year (or get better as they get older--this is a huge fallacy, FTR), b) that these struggles are somehow independent from the players' skill, and, most importantly, c) that Michigan's shooters are good and last year was a prediction of how they will play, regardless of the fact that they didn't shoot particularly well last year.

The thing that really struck me about the numbers from last year is that, of the "shooters" proper (Eric Puls being obviously left out of this category), the best shooting percentage was CJ Lee's 36.5%. Would anyone really like CJ Lee to be the best outside shooter on a team defined as a three-point shooting team? No one? Really? That's what I thought. Frankly, there's nothing about last year's shooting percentages that indicate that these guys are objectively good three-point shooters. Sure, last year we could blame it on youth and getting to know a system and getting acclimated to the college game. But as we're 10 games into many of their sophomore seasons, and they're not shooting well, sooner or later, you have to look at the team and say, "Nope, they can't shoot."

One argument against all of this is high school performance as an indicator of college performance, and if Beilein keeps drafting great high school shooters, there have to be a few good college ones. But as we all know, high school success does not necessarily translate to college success. These guys can be guru-approved and weighed down by state championship rings, but all that matters anymore is on-court production. And frankly, we haven't seen anything to believe that these guys are truly great shooters.

This year in the NCAA, there are over 100 players shooting better than 46.3% from three point range (and that's all ESPN will show me). And at least 30 of them have taken a substantial amount of three points shots. Michigan's best three point shooter is Matt Vogrich, who is shooting 46.2% from three point, while only having taken 13 shots. Other than Vogrich, the best three-point shooter on the team right now is DeShawn Sims at 35.3%. This is not indicative of a team that's good at shooting.

Like I said, I don't want to condemn all of these guys. Who knows, maybe they'll turn it on and become the best group of shooters in the country. But last year's less-than-flattering stats, combined with the awful performances this year are leading me to believe that this team might not be very good at shooting. I hope I'm wrong. The numbers, right now, say I'm not.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Michigan @ Kansas previ... aw forget it

So, there's basically no way Michigan comes away with a win here, right? Kansas is the consensus #1 in the country and Michigan can't shoot the ball. All you need to look at is point differential:

Points For
Points Against

Holy yikes. Kansas is nearly doubling their opponents score. And given Michigan's struggles on both sides of the floor, there's no evidence to suggest that this is a trend that will reverse itself. And that's not to mention that Kansas is shooting a ridiculous 51.2% from the field and 44.2% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Michigan is only hitting 42.2% of their shots, including 29.7% from the three-point range.

It's difficult to compare this game to the ones against Duke and UCLA early last year because, while Michigan clearly wasn't an established power, they also didn't look completely out of sorts. Nothing Michigan has done this year has inspired any confidence in thinking they can beat Kansas. In fact, nothing they've done has made me think they can come within 20 points of Kansas. But as I've said before, this is college basketball and it's predicated on weird stuff happening

Michigan is going to need strong performances from Sims and Harris if they're going to have any chance in this game. Unfortunately, Sims will be matched up against 6'11" junior center Cole Aldrich. And as we saw numerous times last year and most recently against Utah, when Sims is outsized, he tends to struggle. Expect him to be forced into an outside-shooting role this game with little production down low. If he can't establish his offensive (and defensive, for that matter) presence in the post early--against an experienced center averaging 3.6 blocks per game this year--there's little to no way Michigan wins. That is unless they defy all of their averages this year and decide to shoot 55%+ from three-point land.

The other guy Michigan is really going to have to worry about is freshman super-guard, and former Caliperi commit, Xavier Henry, who is averaging 18 PPG, and shooting over 50% from the field (and over 50% from three-point). This will be up to Manny Harris, who, unless he steps his defensive game up, is going to be thoroughly embarrassed tomorrow by an exceptional athlete.

Michigan isn't explicitly outsized, but they are outmanned, as Kansas has nine players who average more than 10 minutes per game to Michigan's seven. As the game goes on, Michigan is probably going to tire, trying to cover the depth and explosiveness of the Kansas roster. They're going to have to create turnovers to stay in this game, and given Michigan's difficult in the 1-3-1 this year, this is unlikely.

(The problems with the 1-3-1 this year are numerous, but mostly boil down to consistency. Michigan is having trouble trapping the ball high and teams are getting easy passes into the middle of the zone. This causes a convergence of defenders, leaving corner shooters open. Whose fault is this? The guards, basically, and I think a lot of it falls on the shoulders of Darius Morris who hasn't had enough time in the system yet to become comfortable and consistent in it. As time goes on, I think you see the defense become less porous simply because the new players have had more time to really fit into the system and work together.)

So how does Michigan win? Um, they don't. No really, they don't. Unless they can shoot remarkably better than they have all year, the defense finds a way to create turnovers, and the bench steps up big, Michigan has zero chance of winning this one. That or they'll need a complete collapse by Kansas, something that doesn't often happen to consensus #1 teams that are deep and highly talented. If Michigan can keep this close and begins to shoot the ball better, we can consider this game a victory.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Expansion, corner depth, and Mike Hart

So remember when I said that there's no reason to care about the Big Ten thinking about expanding because you're not going to get anything important or of substance? Check out these LOLerskates:

Multiple Big Ten sources told the Tribune Wednesday that 14 teams, even 16, could be in play as it relates to the Big Ten's potential expansion. "Anything is possible," one source said, beyond the conventional wisdom of simply adding a 12th school.

I reiterate: Don't care or pay any attention to what's going on here until such a time comes that the Big Ten announces what team it's allowing through the Pearly Gates.

Boo boo
So Boubacar Cissoko--'member him?--might be trying to rejoin the team. To which I give an emphatic yawn. I broke down what secondary might look like if Warren ends up heading to the NFL and came away with the conclusion that, even losing our best corner, depth isn't too dire and Michigan should be set with guru-approved young'uns. Getting Cissoko back would increase the depth but not in any meaningful manner. Cissoko was outright awful in the few games he played in this year and corner depth is such that just having bodies is no longer an issue. Again, I'm way more concerned with the possible loss of....

Brandon Smith, who is uber-transfered.

"That's how it is with everybody," said Roundtree, speaking at a Washtenaw County Salvation Army volunteer event today. "It's a dislike of the coaches, a dislike of the players, you don't feel comfortable, you've got to do something? I'm not sure.

"I talked to him and said, 'What's going on?' He just was shaking his head. It probably just hit him, like, 'I probably messed up.' He was just like he really didn't care, he's just ready to leave. It's up to him."

Not only is this the obvious, "Yep, he's gone" statement, but it sounds like things might have gotten ugly for Smith. There's clearly something going on here that we haven't been privy to, but in any case, Smith is not just leaving because of playing time. Maybe Cissoko can play the Stevie Brown/Brandon Smith position. Except absolutely not. Ugh.

So Mike Hart, favorite son of the Michigan faithful, has been getting a lot of time for the Colts lately after having been waived and demoted to the practice squad and waived and placed behind Chad Simpson on the depth chart and etc. Speaking of depth charts

Notice anything missing? That's how out-of-the-NFL Mike Hart has been: ESPN, even after Hart has basically been promoted to Joseph Addai's backup in the last few weeks, still doesn't even have him on the depth chart. Needless to say, along with Henne, Hart is someone who I'd like to see develop a pro career. Obviously, Henne's star shines much brighter in the NFL, but seeing Hart become a reliable third-down back would be cool. I'll definitely be watching tonight on some illegal internet stream of the game.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Ten expansion

Light day today as I just got back from a hospital tour and have to spend the rest of the day catching up on all the work I usually do in the AM. But, big news: The Big Ten is officially thinking about expanding. Except that it's not big news. At all.

Maybe it's because I've expected the Big Ten to expand sooner or later, but yesterday's announcement that the Big Ten has decided to start discussing adding a 12th team is a completely useless bit of information because it is a) something I assume would happen; b) entirely speculative and makes absolutely no promises about whether or not they might actually do it; and c) doesn't give us any indication as to who the new team might be.

If this does end up materializing, that would be a seismic shift in the Big Ten landscape and eventually end up establishing a championship game and divisions and etc. It takes into account not only football, but also basketball, and any of the other major sports that would be affected. Unfortuantely, this change is, at best, four years off given the way teams schedule and the coordination involved. Frankly, in you're in favor of the expansion--and I think just about everyone is--the most realistic thing you're likely to see is the announcement of what programs are completely out of consideration. And if we're really lucky, we'll get an announcement of who it will be within the next 18 months. But this probably won't happen.

Long story short, you shouldn't be very interested in this until such a time comes when something actually materializes. Until then, MGoBlog has a pretty thorough list of potential teams that I can't really top or add to. So read it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Halibut smacking and Judgment Day ... maybe

Something that had gone mostly unmentioned in the blogosphere lately but has been weighing fairly heavily on my mind, are the NCAA investigations that are tentatively set to be completed on December 31. I've tried poking around for any whisper on the status of the investigation but understandably couldn't find all that much. I did find, however, to I'm sure no one's surprise, that the Free Press has continued their quest and has an entire directory of stories aggregated in a site core page dedicated to the investigation--page title: Free Press investigation: Michigan football program broke rules, players say.

I haven't spent all that much time addressing the Free Press or the situation. I had a moment of panic when Michigan's practice logs came up missing, looking for any way that it wasn't a horrible, terrible problem that would crush the program. The upshot: It wasn't. But I've generally left the other criticism and analysis to MGoBlog and Jon Chait, both of whom have been thoroughly torching the Free Press for what will politely be called yellow journalism.

But in my recent searching, I came across the Free Press' non-Rosenberg-written Colleges on their own when enforcing time limits. From the headline, you think, "Well maybe this is an honest evaluation of the NCAA and a reasonable look at what is wrong with the system." It's not. It did, however, say a few things to me about the Free Press and its coverage.

I've said it before around these parts, but the Free Press' continued coverage and insistence on sticking to its guns in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary screams of desperation. But reading this article, more than that, it's a newspaper trying to salvage its dignity when it's been firmly placed behind the eight ball by shoddy editing and a columnist with an axe to grind. Let's say that no serious violations come from the investigation and the NCAA only issues some sort of formal reprimand. The Free Press is then fully exposed, making all of the accusations the Michigan faithful have made against the paper seem true, or at least gives them substantive evidence.

At this point, the Free Press needs the investigation to find something wrong, and if it doesn't, there are basically two approaches the paper can take: issue some sort of apology and admit they were wrong--and this might even require the removal of an editor or two--or come out against the NCAA investigation, saying that for whatever reason, it was unable to uncover the problems their reporters found, standing behind its mass of "evidence". And this is exactly why articles like "Colleges on their own when enforcing time limits" exist. The Free Press is safeguarding itself against the possibility that the investigation won't turn something up and is looking for an exit strategy in case it needs one.

But that doesn't excuse the proliferation of poor reporting, twisting stories, and semantics--a topic Chait addressed rather poorly, IMO, here. (Per the Chait piece, it's not that I necessarily disagree with his sentiment or logic, but it feels petty and needless. He's looking for bias in the details when it's smacking him upside the head with a halibut.) Chait did, however, touch on the idea of an institutional bias, and one that has only become clearer as the newspaper continues to produce one-sided reporting with, apparently, zero editing. From "Colleges on their own when enforcing time limits", the authors supply an anecdote of a former Iowa player who thought Kirk Ferentz was exceeding practice limits (emphasis mine):

Nine years ago, Christoph Trappe was convinced coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff at Iowa were breaking the NCAA’s 20-hour rule. So Trappe began keeping track.

It was 2000, and the Iowa offensive lineman documented every football-related activity he participated in. He didn’t count getting taped or putting on shoulder pads or getting treated for bruises or watching film on his own. He did count practice, games and anything else coaches told him to do.

"Not once," he e-mailed the Free Press, "were the Iowa coaches over. Usually they ended up 15 minutes below it."

And that seems reasonable, right? Players are unaware of what exactly constitutes countable hours and though they may feel that the coaches are going over the 20-hour limit, they are usually incredibly specific about how much time they spend on these activities. Maybe the same happened in the Michigan case, and, had the players who allegedly accused Rodriguez of ignoring the limits actually tracked the hours, they would come up with a similar discovery. The Free Press definitely came to that conclusion, right? (again, emphasis mine):

“Myself and some other teammates thought that perhaps Iowa was going over those 20 hours,” he wrote. “It sure felt like much more.”

Trappe told the Free Press he never felt his coaches coerced him into putting in more than 20 hours while at Iowa.

In Michigan’s case, former and current players described Sunday practices during the season that would have far exceeded the NCAA’s limit of 4 hours a day, in addition to weekly totals that appeared to exceed the 20-hour limit.

Unlike Trappe at Iowa, Allen Langford felt that at Wisconsin he had no choice but to put in more than 20 hours.

Not only does the article move on from the Michigan case in one sentence, but it explicitly differentiates the situation between Trappe and Michigan, indicating that Michigan actually did do something wrong, whereas the Iowa situation was handled properly. I would bet that if you interviewed Trappe before his experiment that he'd describe exactly what anonymous Michigan players did; it was the catalyst for Trappe's experiment, no less. But again, no critical analysis by the Free Press and an important omission in an effort to prove themselves right (again, because they have to be).

What's really sad is that this sort of stunt doesn't even bother me at this point. The Free Press is going to do what they're going to do, regardless of the results of the NCAA investigation, and at this point, they're doing it as a safeguard against the backlash if no major violation surface. Although I'm increasingly anxious about what the end result will be, especially with its pending, tentative deadline looming, reading schlock like this from the Free Press actually settles my fears a bit.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kelly and the BCS and the Heisman and new digs randomness

Sort of a random post today as I didn't see the basketball game because I lost track of time watching Henne dismantle the Jaguars to keep the Dolphins' playoff hopes alive.

Faster, better, stronger
Attentive readers will notice the new lead image. Many thanks to former Michigan Daily coworker/photographer and all around awesome dude Forest Casey for the image. The previous one was something I had put together with GIMP--a terrible, free online knock off of Photoshop--and was a hodgepodge of good ideas gone wrong. Having neither graphic design skills nor tools with which to mess around, you got what you got. That was until I got an e-mail like this.

Just wanted to let you know that I've been reading your blog.

But, and I say this with all respect due, I can't really look at that head image too long, man. That blur just gets me.

So I decided to give you an early Christmas present and make you a new logo with one of my shots back at the Daily.

Anyone else intent on giving me free stuff for Christmas is welcome to do so.

BCS vs. Playoffs
So I suppose I should weigh in on this. Except I'm kind of on the fence about the whole issue. It's not that I particularly enjoy the BCS or Michigan missing out on a chance at the National Championship in 2006 or that I think Cincy/TCU/Boise State didn't get shafted this year. My main contention with a playoff system is that it will somehow dictate that The Best Team wins the national championship. And I know that's not necessarily why everyone wants a playoff--settle it on the field, yadda yadda--but it does seem to be one of the key arguments.

My biggest issue with the BCS as it currently stands is the preseason rankings and the voters' reluctance to change their respective minds. Dr. Saturday does a useful and unbiased performance-driven poll every week and is such that, at 4-0, Michigan was listed as the #5 (or thereabouts) team in the country, but quickly started dropping as they lost. Unfortunately, there's no way to really force voters to vote this way. The other way to do it would be not to release an initial poll until week 5 or 6. But, ya know, you still would've seen Florida on top this year if that had happened.

Maybe I'm just lazy and don't care to change the status quo. A playoff still brings controversy, though, as the teams that make it into the playoffs are still ranked on a computer-generated basis a la RPI or BCS computer polling and there will be a debate as to what 10-1 teams should get the final playoff spot etc. etc. The counter argument to this is: At least the top X teams get a chance to play for the title. To which I give Meh+.

Am I against a playoff system and in favor of the BCS? No. But I'm also not completely pissed at the current system and want to stab my eyes out. A few tweaks here and there and I think people will be happy enough. Plus, you're not always going to have four undefeated teams. What would a line on Cincy/Alabama realistically be right now? Cincy +7.5? Do we really need to see this played out?

Kelly to ND and Ingram wins a Heisman
Surprising absolutely no one, Brian Kelly is now the head coach at Notre Dame. This is obviously bad for Michigan. I temporarily got my hopes up thinking, "Kelly is probably just a really good recruiter and started playing at a relative talent advantage." Then Rivals shut me up: Cincinnati has hovered around the 60-70th best recruiting class the last few years. So someone with the ability to actually get the most out of his players, combined with the talent of the players Notre Dame gets could be disastrous for Michigan/Big Ten. As has been noted, the real concern will come when/if Kelly hires a good defensive coordinator. Frankly, I'm more concerned with not starting walk ons at crucial positions on my own team.

And in a move that surprised me immensely, Mark Ingram won the Heisman and Spartan nation cried themselves to sleep. If McCoy or Suh had won, I would've shrugged my shoulders and said whatever--though I was really hoping Suh wouldn't win, preserving Woodson as sole defensive Heisman winner. But Ingram winning over Gerhart who had objectively better numbers in basically every statistical category makes my bones angry. The comparison will come down to conferences, and as the SEC has the nation by the balls, a Pac-10 standout has little to no chance against a comparable SEC back. Tebow and Ingram were the two least deserving of the award, IMO, but such is the way of college football.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How good is Manny Harris?

Yesterday, I wrote, "Despite his full stat sheet, Harris is simply a really good role player forced into the star's spotlight because Michigan lacks one. Sure, triple doubles and gaudy numbers and all that, Harris is kind of an everyman; he's a more talented Zack Novak (or an NBA equivlanet, and a personal favorite of mine, JR Smith--capable of exceptional highs but also "He did what?"-inducing lows), which is great if that's what he's supposed to do. But Harris is supposed to be the leader and the stud of the team. He's not that."

I've been known to get out of my head about some things, and anyone who knows me well will tell you that when I get on something, it's tough to argue me off of it. (Such an accusation was made when I wrote The Jordan Kovacs problem, something that I feel kind of bad for writing but a sentiment I still fully support. Watching Kovacs play hurts my brain.) In any case, I figured that most people would disagree with my feelings toward Harris and I wanted to explore Harris' game and my feelings a little more before everyone wrote me off as a quack.

The more I thought about it, the more apt a foil JR Smith became for Harris. Both have an exceptional set of skills and athleticism, and both have the ability to carry a team on any given night. But their sporadic play relegates them to one of role player and not overwhelming star.

The biggest correlation between the two is that when they're on the floor, they play for themselves. This isn't supposed to be as heavy a slight as it probably sounds. Harris shouldn't be expected to distribute constantly as a) he's a small forward and b) he's a scorer at heart. But there's a difference between having the ball in your hands and scoring within a system, and having the ball in your hands and scoring to score. One of the big complaints of Harris' game has always been his tendency to take bad shots, and it's something he hasn't yet grown out of. You can almost tell, when Harris is standing at the top of the key eyeing down a defender, that he's going to put up a contested three. Manny makes up his mind long before the play happens. And this goes a long way toward his non-star stature.

This typifies some of the issues with Michigan's offense this year. The team has been unwilling to take what the defense has been giving them, instead opting for contested threes. Against Utah, in the first possession of the game, Michigan nearly turned the ball over twice because of a Utah defender overplaying the pass, something they continued to do the entire game. And yet Michigan rarely used backcuts and ball fakes to get these drives to the lane. When they did, they usually worked, freeing players to get to the basket to either get fouled or blocked--the issues here are another problem altogether and far too difficult and divergent to address right now.

Back to Harris though. For all of his athleticism, Harris is decidedly unimposing physically. ESPN has him listed at 6'5" and a meager 185 lbs., which seems about right. Given Harris' tendency to play for himself, his lack of size is a strike against him. Bigger players with a similar mindset are often able to finish stronger, get to the lane easier, and can truly dominate against competition. Manny is unable to really take over, partially for this reason. If his shot isn't falling (and this year it hasn't been) his strength and size limit his ability to get to the basket.

And when he does get there and is met by two or three defenders, he rarely makes the right play: finding an open teammate for an easy shot. Now, this year has been a difficult to pick up assists because, well, Michigan can't hit shots, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't make the right play. This is where Harris As Star really falls apart for me: Stars make their teammates better and Harris rarely does so. I'm not expecting him to run the point because that's not his position, but he doesn't flow with this team, working within their system. Simplistically, DeShawn Sims is the post presence and all the other players are the three point shooters, except Harris, who's schizophrenic and often plays with blinders on. But whatever the case, Harris seems to transcend Beilein's system and work on his own set of rules.

I'm not trying to imply that Harris isn't good. He's an incredible scorer and dynamic player, capable of single-handedly beating teams. But I hesitate to heap endless praise on him when he frequently fails to live up to the hype and seems generally more interested in scoring than team oriented. I'd rather have Harris than not, and when he leaves the team, Michigan is going to be in trouble, searching for someone who can score like he can, but I'm just not sold.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is it 2010 yet?

With about six minutes left in the game yesterday and Michigan down by four points, Stu Douglass ran to the top of the key to take a handoff screen from DeShawn Sims. He got the ball, turned the corner, and his defender went under the screen. In almost every instance, especially for a three-point shooter like Douglass, this is an immediate cue to shoot the ball. Douglass, however, hesitated and didn't take the shot. Instead, he took two steps forward and pulled up for a long two pointer that clanged off the rim. This was the closest Michigan got to a comeback and they never recovered.

That one play speaks to all the ills of Michigan this season: poor shooting, worse decision making, and stagnant offensive play. Douglass' hesitation to shoot an open three because he's afraid of missing, only to take a worse shot (a few feet closer, but it's only worth two points), shows just how out of sync the team is. Darrius Morris, who had a decent night, is clearly not suited to run this offense yet. It's become obvious that he doesn't know quite what to do, and you can see the team physically confused on the offensive side of the court--everything runs through Harris, about whom more later.

I knew the defense was playing poorly, but in the past, the defense hadn't expicitly lost Michigan any games. The defense lost them this one. You know things have been going poorly when 31% (7-22) from three-point range is a marked improvement and isn't the most glaring weakness in your game. The defense was slow and soft, the transition defense was completely nonexistent--watching this game makes me realize just how badly Michigan State is going to beat Michigan with their fast break--and although the 1-3-1 worked at times, it was inconsistent at best.

So at this point, do we close up shop? Yeah, kind of. Barring a miraculous upset against Kansas or UConn, and an 11-7 (or better) run in the Big Ten, Michigan is NIT-bound this year--if that. With the losses they have and the lack of any nonconference resume, it's going to be nearly impossible to get in the dance this year.

  • Someone needs to yell at this team. Beilein has never struck me as the kind of get-in-your-face coach that will really lay into someone, but I'll be damned if he doesn't need to. This team just looks like they don't care. There's absolutely no effort. At least five times yesterday after a Michigan basket, a Utah player streaked down the court completely untouched for an easy layup. This team just looks like it doesn't care. At all.
  • To that end, I would've been happy to see Manny Harris benched for much of that game. He turned it on late and started to lead a comeback, but his atrocious defense and shot selection was the reason Michigan was in that hole to begin with. Hampered by a hamstring injury or not, Harris looks lazy, uninterested, and sometimes downright bad on the court. He gave up constant backcuts and drives to the hoop, took some of the worst shots I've seen in a long time, and just generally seems not to want to play for this team.
  • I said after the Big Ten/ACC challenge that Harris had a long way to go but couldn't exactly pinpoint what it was until this game. Despite his full stat sheet, Harris is simply a really good role player forced into the star's spotlight because Michigan lacks one. Sure, triple doubles and gaudy numbers and all that, Harris is kind of an everyman; he's a more talented Zack Novak (or an NBA equivlanet, and a personal favorite of mine, JR Smith--capable of exceptional highs but also "He did what?"-inducing lows), which is great if that's what he's supposed to do. But Harris is supposed to be the leader and the stud of the team. He's not that.
  • Sims looked bad, but understandably so. He was playing against someone who had fully seven inches on him, and was forced to play as an outside shooter. When Sims goes to the NBA (through free agency, by the way), he's going to be a small forward. I wish in a game like this, Michigan would've used him a bit more in that NBA small forward role, getting more action out of him: moving him through the lane and getting 15 footers. This would've done a few things, but namely, it would've gotten the 7'3" center away from the basket and opened the floor a bit.
  • Zach Gibson started, like I assumed. And Ben Cronin got a few minutes. neither did anything of particular note but did do a decent job containing the big men of Utah.
  • Most infuriating part of the game: Free throw shooting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Michigan/Utah stream

For anyone who happens to be rolling by the site right now, I've found what appears to be a stream of the Michigan/Utah game tonight. Watch here.

Michigan hoops going big? (Utah preview-ish)

Tonight, Michigan takes on the Utah Utes out in sunny Utah. This stands as one of Michigan's last chances to get a statement nonconference win, as it's a road game against a decent team. Biggest problem is, Utah's roster mostly dwarfs the three-point shooting, guard-centric Wolverines. With 7'3" center David Foster and 6'11" Kim Tillie, Michigan's rebounding looks to get even worse, unless they decide to play a big lineup and sacrifice some of the three pointers the team loves so much.

After Michigan lost to Boston College, I said,

Michigan CANNOT rebound and will likely have to rethink their lineup against teams with anything resembling big men. Gibson/Sims/Harris/LLP (maybe Novak)/Morris seems the most likely starting five.

And I stick by that assessment (with a few personnel changes) and, for other reasons, UMHoops is advocating more playing time for Zack Gibson--namely, for his improved skills, team-leading +/-, and yeah, his size.

(Aside: In either my junior or senior year at Michigan, I was playing a pick up game at the IM Building and a newly transfered Zack Gibson joined our game. Fortunately, I didn't have to guard him, but needless to say, we lost. Dude had a good shot and decent handles. Of course he was playing a bunch of scrubs that are in no way as good as players he plays against now, but I digress.)

UMHoops says that it will probably come at the expense of Anthony Wright, which I don't necessarily agree with. Michigan needs to start establishing depth, and unfortuantely, all of their depth happens to be freshmen and sophomores. At some point, you need to stop trying to win now and realize that establishing these players and getting them playing time for the future is what will help this team really excel. If that means playing Ben Cronin for extensive minutes on a night like tonight when you're drastically outsized, so be it.

In my opinion, Michigan's rotation should look something like this:

Power Forward
Small Forward
Shooting Guard
Point Guard
Zack Gibson
DeShawn Sims
Manny Harris
Stu Douglass
Darius Morris
Ben Cronin
Anthony Wright
Zack Novak
Matt Vogrich
Laval Lucas-Perry

This is, obviously, not perfect. For one, the second team is light on scorers and young. But when you're facing the kind of size matchup that Michigan is in this game, you have to do something. Against Utah though, this might actually work.

Utah's backup center is a 7 foot freshman (Hey! We have one of those) who has gotten a lot of time early (almost 18 minute a game). But a freshman he remains. Other than that, Utah doesn't really have a size advantage against Michigan on the bench, allowing Michigan to play multiple three point shooters without giving up too much defensively. Wright would be undersized but not signficantly. And putting LLP on the second team gives a bit more leadership to an otherwise random group of players. Plus, he's one of the only players on the team besides Harris that can create his own shot.

I can say with all but 100% certainty that we're not going to see a lineup like this tonight. But I would be shocked if Gibson didn't start this game. Cronin is also going to have to log a lot of minutes if Michigan is going to have any chance against the bigs of Utah.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The stars, they are burgeoning

As a Michigan fan, I've had my fair share of tough days over the last two years. But one of the more difficult days for me this year was last Saturday: Championship Saturday. It's not that the Big Ten has a championship game proper that Michigan was missing out on. But as I was watching Cincy vs. Pitt and Georgia Tech vs. Clemson and Texas vs. Nebraska and Florida vs. Alabama, I thought to myself, "Wow, we've got a long way to go." Even with Nebraska and Texas' thoroughly awful performances, I still sat there thinking that Michigan would have absolutely no shot against any one of them. This year, last year, next year. Michigan has so much to rebuild that there are more rough days than good ones in the immediate future.

I don't know who to direct this anger and disappointment toward. Lloyd Carr for leaving the program in a tough spot seems the most immediate choice. But what about Bill Martin's sailboat and the inability to get Les Miles? Would the program be performing as poorly if Miles was coach (read: less attrition, same offensive schemes)? Rich Rodriguez for recruiting and playing walk ons and schematic problems? Scott Shafer?

Frankly, it doesn't matter. Michigan finished in the basement, had an awful defense last year--that looks to get more awful next year--excessive youth, and still looks to be somewhat behind the eight ball in terms of talent against even the middling Big Ten. This is where we are now, and Championship Saturday is a pipe dream. January bowls and victories over OSU are a long way off, even if the latter seems a far more realistic possibility than it did before the OSU loss this year.

And now we're left with a team that I like probably more than I should. Tate Forciers and Craig Rohs and Roy Roundtrees and Vincent Smiths are the future and are somehow supposed to be winners. It's tough to see them in that light though, isn't it? Imagining them hugging after an Ohio State win. If Henne and Hart and Manningham couldn't do it, how will these youths?

One of my biggest problems with Ohio State fans (and living in Ohio, I deal with them constantly) is their arrogance. It comes out in all facets of their discussions about the team and extends to the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and whatever other team they root for. It's why they think Michigan will never win again and they call Michigan $cUM and whatever else is thrown around in Buckeyeverse. But it's tough not to see where they're coming from sometimes. Saturday was such a day.


Before the Ohio State game, I wrote about my coming to Michigan football, and football in general. The NFL was never something I cared about and to this day, I still rail against it. But Sundays have become something of a safehouse for my sports sanity.

I'm a homer, but I like to think a reasonable one. And for all intents and purposes, this blog was named after my homerism and fantasy football. It seems only fitting that fantasy football lineup this year includes Henne, Manningham, Braylon, Avant, Jay Feely, and Breaston. We're not winning. But Burgeoning Wolverine Stars nonetheless; guys I can root for and that make me happy.

And so watching Michigan on Sundays has become something of a joy. And this week was no different as Mike Hart, who I thought had been waived by the Colts, got into the game against the Titans and carried the ball four times for a whopping 11 yards. It's not much but it's something. And it made me smile and think of better times and players that I really truly liked. And then Tuesday rolls around and things like this show up in my inbox:

Second-year RB Mike Hart: “Mike is fine. As you saw Sunday, he did a great job. He has that special magic where he can make people miss. He has great hands and he's a very reliable blocker. He finishes every run. We're happy he got out there and got a chance to show what he can do. I know there a lot of Mike Hart fans here in Indianapolis. I'm one of them. I was thrilled to see how he'd done. He has worked his way back from a tough [knee] injury sustained last season."

That's the Colts GM Bill Polian talking about Mike Hart, our Mike Hart. The guy who was too small for the NFL and who fumbled in one of his only appearances his rookie year. The guy that had been demoted to the practice squad and then presumably waived. He played and got a measly 11 yards on a measly 4 carries and it made me happy. And of course that doesn't mean that he's great or he is fit for the NFL or that he'll even see the field again this year. But it's a little solace in an otherwise bleak football world for the Wolverine faithful.

This isn't to imply that I don't think Rodriguez will be unable to get players into the NFL or that the program's best year's are behind it. At the beginning of this season, as short ago as it was, Michigan was 4-0 and everyone was excited and thought 8-4 was a possibility. And we all started to really appreciate wins for what they were. It didn't matter whether or not it was against Delaware State or not. A win is a win is a win. There haven't been many of those on Saturdays around these parts lately. But Sundays have had a few this year. Go Blue.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What a Smith-less defense looks like?

These posts are getting old. Fast.

MGoBlog is reporting that Brandon Smith, LB/safety hybrid and apparent heir to the Stevie Brown throne has picked up his transfer papers and is moving on. This is, in a word, ohmygodthedefenseisgoingtobeawfulbad. You might remember Smith from such plays as getting kicked in the chest against Delaware State (above), and as the guy who television cameramen continually mistook for Brandon Minor, despite the dreadlocks and name on his jersey. Other than that, not much. That's because Smith couldn't really find a good fit on the defense, only really getting time once the coaches were sufficiently fed up with the play of Mike Williams or random linebacker.

So what does this mean for the defense? Again, bad. It had been my assumption that Smith was probably going to take over the Stevie Brown role as hybrid LB/nickel corner/safety because of his athleticism, build, and need to be able to cover players one-on-one. It had been long thought that Jordan Kovacs might take over the role, but as mentioned here before, that last requirement takes him firmly out of contention for the spot. But unfortunately, Michigan has about zero good options for the position anymore.

The current depth chart at the Stevie Brown position looks like this: Walk on, true sophomore. So, ya know, dire. As you could tell last year, Brown rarely if ever left the field and was, Graham aside, the most effective player on the defense for most of the year. Losing him without any viable backup is going to be a big hit. The walk on behind Brown last year was Floyd Simmons who sits at an unassuming 5'10", 190 lbs. In other words: No. Behind him is the true sophomore Mike Jones (Who?) who we haven't really seen yet and may end up being a serviceable option here. But again, true sophomore.

And that's about it. There aren't too many options here because of the decidedly specific set of skills a player needs to have to play the position. The loss of Smith may necessitate the widely rumored move of incoming super-recruit Marvin Robinson from safety to this position, but standing at 190 lbs. as he's reported now makes this a last case scenario lest we watch him get blasted a la Roh v. Wisconsin every game. I honestly believe that this departure may be more impactful than the likely loss of Donovan Warren if only for purely depth reasons. Michigan is either going to need an out-of-position true freshman or an inexperienced true sophomore to step up into the role that became the most active and diverse role on the defense. This is gonna get ugly.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What a Warren-less defense looks like

As everyone now knows, Donovan Warren said that he is "heavily" leaning toward going pro. With the departure of Stevie Brown and Brandon Graham due to graduation, the loss of Warren would mean Michigan loses the three best players off of it's terrible defense from 2009. Ugh. But what does this really mean for the defense going forward?

For much of the year, I wasn't nearly as high on Warren as many around the Michigan blogosphere were. He was a good corner and undeniably our best player in the secondary, but he was never able to truly shut receivers down. Teams threw at Warren less than at other corners, but I think that's as much a function of Michigan's other corners being terribly inept as opposed to brilliance on Warren's behalf. So while Warren's departure--if he decides to go--will have an impact on the defense, I don't think it'll be nearly as catastrophic as some might feel.

But without Warren, Michigan is tossed back into the Horrifying Depth Chart-ness that they inhabited this past year. You can probably expect the corner depth chart to look something like this:

Left Cornerback
Right Cornerback
1st string
Justin Turner
Troy Woolfolk
2nd string
Cullen Christian
J.T. Floyd
3rd string
Teric Jones
Courtney Avery
4th string
Terrence Talbot
James Rogers

So the depth there doesn't look completely hopeless, but how many of those players would you actually want to see on the field? Three? Pray there are no injuries. Given Rodriguez's decision to redshirt Turner, it's my guess that, at least early in the season, Woolfolk stays at corner and they try to redshirt Cullen. This does however, mean a few other things for the secondary, namely, more Kovacs at safety (and not linebacker, his obvious position) and an unproven Vlad Emilien playing deep. Michigan has Marvin Robinson coming in the 2010 class, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Kovacs move to linebacker and Robinson take over sometime in the Big Ten schedule.

Free Safety
Strong Safety
1st string
Vlad Emilien
Jordan Kovacs
2nd string
Mike Williams
Marvin Robinson
3rd string
Carvin Johnson (expect redshirt)
Jared Van Slyke

We've seen worse looking depth charts than that, but it's still kind of OMG THEY'RE ALL FRESHMAN AND WALKONS involved.

The upshot is this: Warren is going to be a loss, but probably not a significant one. The secondary gets a little younger and a little less experienced than they otherwise would've been. That's about it. Warren wasn't an interception machine last year (he led the team with four for the entire season), and his production started to dwindle as the season went on. Woolfolk will likely take over as the most effective corner--he was nearing it toward the end of 2009--and Michigan will just have to roll the dice with the young'uns. It's going to be very touch and go early, but if some of these young, guru-approved recruits start to pan out early, the loss of Warren will be minimal.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Big Ten/ACC Challenge wrap up

First things first: Woo! Big Ten. Tides are turning people. 1-10... oh.

On to Michigan with bullety bullets:
  • I hesitate to say this team is bad, but they sure look bad. The team is completely out of sync, and maybe that's what happens when you lose your two senior guards and half the team can't legally drink. But either way, this team doesn't look like they have a lack of experience; they look like they have a lack of coaching and preparation. The offense is out of sorts and has absolutely no flow to it whatsoever. The team tries desperately for a backcut for 25 seconds and then someone throws up a contested three. On defense, the team is slow on rotations and out of position most of the time. It's getting ugly.
  • Speaking of the offense, DeShawn Sims needs to get going. And not in that, he-needs-to start-hitting-shots way. Beilein needs to put him squarely on the block and run the offense through him. For as good as Manny Harris is, the offense runs best when it's going inside and out, letting Sims work on the block. For a lot of the game Michigan had five players on the three-point arc and no movement. Everyone is waiting for something to happen. The ball needs to go to Sims on the block.
  • And Harris: The most bothersome thing to come out of these early season losses is seeing just how far Manny Harris has to go. I was lamenting after the Alabama game that, even though Harris' stat line is great, he absolutely cannot take over games the way Michigan needs him too. His outside shot is still abysmal (it was bad last year, too, don't kid yourself), he makes bad decisions, forces the play too much, and is generally too easily shut down. You saw at the end of the game yesterday when he started clearing everyone out because he wanted the ball. And then he drove into three men and failed to kick the ball out. Great players make that play. Needless to say, I've cooled significantly on the Manny Harris As God meme.
  • Three point shooting? Fail. The first shot of the game was a made three pointer by Novak. I texted my brother, "That's a good start." And then 9-34 later...
  • Michigan CANNOT rebound and will likely have to rethink their lineup against teams with anything resembling big men. Gibson/Sims/Harris/LLP (maybe Novak)/Morris seems the most likely starting five.
  • Oh, and Michigan fans have clearly not bought into Michigan basketball yet. That turnout was embarrassing on national television.
Elsewhere in the conference, we learned a few different things:
  • Evan Turner is far and away the best player in the Big Ten. Comparing Harris to Turner at this point is fruitless. There's no question as to who is better. And by a wide margin, too.
  • Wisconsin is really good. They remind me of a less dynamic 2008 Louisville. Enormous--almost to a fault--athletic, and disciplined. By my early season estimation, Wisconsin will battle MSU for the Big Ten title this year.
  • MSU might be the best team in the Big Ten (maybe) but is still not a national contender. Final Four? Maybe. MSU is exceedingly good at the fundamentals but doesn't have that extra gear. There are too many teams in college basketball right now that go above that into obvious excellence that Michigan State is looking at, probably, a deep exit in the tournament after being embarrassed and outmatched again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Big Ten/ACC midway + Boston College preview

So the Big Ten/ACC Challenge went exactly as I expected it to yesterday and the conferences sit tied at 3-3. The Penn State win over Virginia on night one looms large now as the slate gets considerably tougher for the Big Ten tonight. At this point, it's a race to three wins, and the Big Ten is favored in all of one or two tonight. But as has been widely discussed, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota all dropped from the rankings this week and are probably all a little better than their loss-scattered records indicate.

The best game of the night is probably going to be Clemson vs. Illinois. Clemson comes in ranked #19 in the country, and Illinois just dropped out of the rankings from #20 after back-to-back losses to Utah and Bradley. I just think that this Illinois team is too deep and takes care of the ball too well to lose to a Clemson team that Michigan knows well from the tournament last year. Clemson will be playing this one at home, but I look for Mike Tisdale to have a big game down low against undersized defenders.

Though Miami may be a sleeper against Minnesota, I think that ultimately, Minnesota is a better all around team and ends up running away with this one sometime in the second half. This and the Ohio State game, which I'm putting firmly in the grip of the Buckeyes, are the two games that I feel most comfortable with the Big Ten chances tonight. And in terms of Duke/Wisconsin, the Badgers have a chance if they're able to bother Duke with their size and rebound effectively. The fact that this one is in Wisconsin will play a big role, and Badger faithful will need to hope that Duke has trouble finding their shot. I think eventually Duke goes on a shooting rampage and hits a bunch of threes in the second half to catch up and beat Wisconsin. Then finally...

Boston College @ Michigan

First a note about basketball previews in general: I probably won't be previewing a whole ton of nonconference basketball games seeing as their umpteen million college basketball teams and I don't know anything about any of them. I don't even really know that much about Boston College, but a yeoman's effort I shall give.

First, you can read more complete previews at UMHoops and MGoBlog.

So as has been widely publicized, BC is missing a whole mess of players and the ones that they have may be forced into quarantine--a team full of Brandon Minors and Junior Heminways. Either way, BC is a good squad and is coming off of a solid road win against Providence. Michigan is coming off back-to-back losses in the Old Spice Classic and returns home after a needed rest (this team simply doesn't perform well on short rest; didn't last year and it's shaping up to be a problem this year already).

But none of that matters. The thing that is going to determine tonight's game is how well Michigan shoots from beyond the arc. They are a dismal 30% on the year and shot only 26% during the Old Spice Classic. In Michigan's one win in the tournament (against Creighton), the team was on track for a loss until Stu Douglass rained in a deep, deep three. And against Alabama, Michigan only lost by two despite shooting 24% (6-25) from 3-point. A lot has been made of the lack of Michigan's defense in the past few days, and while it has looked porous, it hasnt' cost Michigan a game yet. Hopefully coming back to Crisler will cure some of the shooting ills and Michigan will be able to pull out a victory.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Big Ten/ACC Challenge

So, the ACC is 10-0 during the existence of the Big Ten/ACC challenge, sneaking by some years 6-5 and dominating 7-2 in others. But the prevailing logic is that the Big Ten has a puncher's chance in the challenge this year, and definitely got a big lift last night when Penn State took down Virginia after trailing big in the first half.

With the Big Ten taking a 1-0 lead, the conference needs 5 more wins to take home the title this year. Of the games on the slate, the most winnable include Purdue/Wake Forest,  Minnesota/Miami, Michigan/Boston College (about more which tomorrow), and Ohio State/Florida State. If any of the Big Ten squads comes out of one of those games a loser, it might get tight for the conference, and it'll have to rely on Northwestern, Indiana, and Iowa to pull out victories in what appear to be coin flips at best.

I think it's safe to give Duke/Wisconsin to the ACC (that is unless Duke has another poor shooting performance like they did when Michigan beat them last year), and I think that MSU/UNC is going to be an incredibly close game that eventually goes the way of UNC--don't be surprised to see MSU win this, though, and convincingly if they shoot well. My tentative picks for the rest of the challenge:

Big Ten Record
Wake Forest
NC State
North Carolina
Michigan State
Virginia Tech
Boston College
Florida State
Ohio State

Maybe that's a little pie in the sky, but Ohio State, Minnesota, and Purdue should all wrap up their games quickly and without much flare (Ohio State getting the toughest draw of the three). Michigan, I'll talk about later, is going to end up being one of the swing games, and will largely depend on how well Michigan shoots the rock. UNC, Duke, and Va Tech should all win, the latter two convincingly. Indiana has a chance against Maryland, and may actually come out ahead (this team is just waiting to explode into something great). And frankly, I think Illinois holds onto the ball well enough and can score at a steady enough pace that they will stave off Clemson, much like Michigan did in the Tournament last year.

Worst case scenario for the Big Ten, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Indiana, and Northwestern all lose, and, combined with the victories by Duke and UNC, the Big Ten loses the challenge for the 11th straight year--this year, finishing 4-7. Best case scenario is a little rosier: MSU or Wisconsin upsets their counterparts, the rest of the board above holds true (it's probably a little optimistic as it is) and the Big Ten finishes 8-3, maybe 9-2 if Iowa somehow beats Va Tech. But these things are unlikely and in the world of college basketball where college psyches and inconsistency rule, weird things happen.