Thursday, February 25, 2010

How did we get here?

Bo Schembechler died the day before Michigan's last meaningful football game to date. Bowl games are fun but ultimately meaningless. Appalachian State wasn't meaningful either, and neither was anything thereafter. Since then, Michigan hired Rich Rodriquez and stumbled through two of the program's worst seasons while it watches a proud and diverse fanbase splinter and divide.

I've spent the last few days mostly ignoring the media on the topic of NCAA allegations and Michigan. I read a few trusted and collected writers and begrudgingly decided to listen in on the Wilbon recoil via PTI--which was surprisingly rational--but otherwise, I've steered clear. I don't want to get angry anymore, and I know reading about the situation will do only that. Angry and disappointed seem to be the two emotions I've felt most often over the last two years, and I can openly admit that far too much of my emotional wellbeing is tied up in the success of Michigan athletics.

But as a fan, that's what we're supposed to do. Fans without any emotional investment are no fans at all, and college athletics brings that attachment more than any other sporting event. Because I'm part of Michigan, the tradition, the University. My name is forever associated with that school and that's not something that I neither regret nor take lightly. Michigan is a pretty essential part of my identity, to the point that even my brother, a fellow Michigan alum, gets annoyed at how often I talk about the school and its athletics.

But now we're all stuck looking for answers--some more maliciously than others. Why hasn't Rich Rodriguez been successful? Why has the fanbase splintered so significantly? What's wrong with our basketball and hockey teams? Logic has mostly been tossed out as is often the case with athletics. And anger, disappointment, and mistrust begin to take over many's feelings toward the program. The point is, I understand why Mark Snyder wants Rich Rodriguez out of Michigan. I don't agree with him, his methods, or his lack of self-control--because that's what this whole fiasco has been about--but I do understand him. He's looking for answers and believes those begin with the ousting of Rich Rodriguez. We should all be so lucky so as to having the backing of a major metropolitan newspaper.

The spread offense can't work in the Big Ten and Rich Rodriguez can't win at Michigan because he's not from the Schembechler coaching tree. These are not logical ideas and yet people are willing to accept them as reasonable because it's an answer. They're answers to why Michigan is struggling and how to make everything better. Because for a lot of people Lloyd Carr's Michigan wasn't broken or out of date, it was perfectly suitable for the contemporary college football environment. Eight to ten wins a season, a middling national storyline punctuated by a win or loss to Ohio State. This is Michigan and it doesn't need fixing or reworking. But Appalachian State doesn't just happen, and trying to logically explain it returns only that things were not quite as settled in the Carr camp as decendents and alums of the Schembechler school want to imagine. And then there's the divided former players. Morgan Trent and Braylon Edwards standing staunchly on one side of the line and everyone else cautiously and reasonably waiting in the middle. Very few have crossed the line to the Rodriguez camp.

The question is why, though. Why did so many people dislike Rich Rodriguez from the outset? Why have the former players so completely turned their backs on the program, and more importantly, the University which they represent? This is a concept I can't imagine. Michigan will forever be my University, regardless of what they do.

I started this blog as a place where I could talk about sports, primarily Michigan sports, and really go in depth into the ideas and people that matter to me. And yet I've spent most of my time angry and disappointed, lost amid game film, staring at coverages and techniques and wondering why we can't get it right. My way of coping with all of this is to post electronic music on Fridays rather than write up another column about how our once-hyped basketball team can't win games against Big Ten basement dwellers and doing statistical significance analysis of shooting percentages.

So I avoid the discussion of all of this because it's only going to get me angry. I'm already disappointed that it happened but it's over with. Just like 2008 and 2009, these are things that happened and now it's time to just go forward. Rationally.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NCAA allegations: What's going to happen?

So in my last post, I mentioned something I wrote a while back about possible consequences that was probably out of date now. It's not, and in fact, it's particularly relevant.

Given the reports we've recently heard--that Michigan's compliance department didn't obtain the CARA forms from Rodriguez but eventually filed their own audit in response--it seems that Michigan is almost certainly guilty of a failure to monitor. It would be pretty difficult, given the outline above to make a case that Michigan didn't have institutional control and were repeatedly unaware of what was going on. Though the lack of CARA forms extended to over a year, the University audit may play as a significant factor into the NCAA's judgment.

Plainly put, however, this is an NCAA violation. Whether it was, as MGoBlog suggested, Rodriguez telling someone in the compliance department to to buzz off or the compliance department simply not doing its job, one way or another Michigan will be reprimanded for this. If there are no other violations found, the fact that Michigan filed an internal audit on the situation prior to the Free Press report, Michigan will probably get a public reprimand and be asked for records on a fairly consistent basis for the next few years--in the various NCAA official documents, it's "public reprimand and censure". It would be difficult for the NCAA, unless they were on a serious crusade, to make anything more than a failure to monitor out of the current situation.

So that was pretty on point. It seemed obvious from what we knew, that there was going to be the failure to monitor charge. The other things that came up are the quality control members that were coaching various players during the offseason and now, a GA that decided it was a good idea to lie to the NCAA committee.

In that post, though, I had discussed a 2005 case against Florida International that, now, looks exactly like the one Michigan is facing. The allegations, word-for-word from the NCAA report, include: Impermissible skill instruction, impermissible out-of-season athletically related activities, unethical conduct, and countable athletically related activities outside the playing season. These are basically spot on with what Michigan is currently being charged with, including the unethical conduct allegation. Alex Herron, there were others who made your grave mistake:

On July 23, 2004, at the conclusion of the former assistant coach's initial interview with the NCAA enforcement staff, the former assistant coach was admonished to keep the interview confidential. The former assistant coach acknowledged and agreed not to discuss the content of the interview. Approximately three hours after his July 23 interview, he was interviewed a second time by the enforcement staff and institution. During the course of the second interview, the enforcement staff specifically asked the former assistant coach whether he had any conversations with any student-athletes after his first interview. The former assistant coach responded that he had not spoken to any student-athletes after his first interview. However, it was discovered that shortly after his first interview, the former assistant coach placed a cellular call to a football student-athlete (henceforth, "the student-athlete").

For this, he was promptly fired. Obviously, this is not exactly what Herron did, but it's the same idea: lie to the NCAA committee and get your name engraved in a major violations case. Anyone who knows Alex Herron should say goodbye now. He'll be working a tollbooth in Alaska next month. The rest of the details of the case are similar to Michigan's. Coaches are coaching when they shouldn't, exceeding practice limits,  etc.

So now, what everyone wants to know, What happened? Well, "For the reasons set forth in Parts I and II of this report, the Committee on Infractions finds that this case involved major violations of NCAA legislation associated with an assistant coach knowingly violating rules regarding athletically related activities and an associated failure to monitor." So that settles it, no? Michigan is almost certainly going to be punished for major violations. That's the bad news.

The good news? The sanctions aren't really all that damning. Florida International self-imposed several sanctions, none of which were all that painful (paraphrased):

1. Fired the coach that lied to the NCAA committee
2. Reduced the amount of coaches allowed for the next season by one. The one that was removed was the coach doing improper training who, in the Michigan case, were quality control folk. This might be a problem for the new linebacker coach we just hired, but no one else really.
3. Lost four fall camp practices
4. For every hour of impremissable practice, the team sacrificed two hours of mandatory practice/conditioning.
5. Reduction of one coach in off-campus recruiting visits
6. A few penalties against the AD that won't apply to the Michigan case because of Brandon coming in and tidying up
7. Loss of money, written reprimand, loss of bonuses, and having to attend meetings and other meaningless things imposed on the coach.
8. #7 only for S&C coaches and assistants.

The NCAA saw these regulations and raised them a few:

1. Public reprimand (oh noes, don't Freep us!)
2. Three years probation, during which time there's lots of reporting of compliance
3. Letter from the NCAA to the fired coaching stating that if he looked for a job at all affiliated with the NCAA during the years of probation, that institution would have to appear before the infractions committee.
4. A letter from the President at the end of the probationary period outlining all practices and making sure they're up to the NCAA's standards.

So that's that. Things like a loss of scholarships or a postseason ban seem almost completely out of the question here, as does a possible television ban. Florida International saw nothing that aggressive and I'd assume too, with a larger university and far more public athletic program, Michigan will probably skate a little easier than this. These are major violations, but that does not mean the penalties associated with said violations are significant in the long term.

NCAA allegation letters

Check out the allegation letters yourself, provided by the University. These can be a little dense if you've never looked through these kinds of NCAA infraction papers before. I read about a million of them when I wrote what a now out-of-date post examining similar situations and possible consequences a few months back.

The primary thing Michigan is accused of here is using quality control personnel as de facto coaches. Given what the NCAA is requesting from Michigan, the worst case scenario here is a temporary television ban, which isn't great, but is also not something as serious as scholarship losses (I assume) or a postseason ban.

Practicegate presser notes

- Today sharing the notice of allegations received from NCAA.
- Integrity at core of a university
- Make all necessary changes. We will not make excuses.
- Addressing concerns quickly and head on.

- Will highlight major areas of concern and provide document from NCAA. RichRod will make statement. Can’t answer all questions but will be as open as we can.
- Never been involved in rule violations of “this nature”
- "This is a tough day."
- Dedicate ourselves to learning from this.
- NCAA allegations: Revealed areas we need to improve.
- Quality control people engaged in prohibited coaching behaviors. May not engage in skill development of give advice while stretching or watching game film. Quality control can now sit in on coach’s meetings but couldn’t when they did.
- Allegation that they exceeded permissible practice hours during some weeks this year.
- Overages is approximately 2 hours a week in offseason.
- During season, overage by less than 1 hour. Sometimes 20 minutes
- There were no situations where any athlete’s welfare was put in jeopardy
- Significant reason for overages is internal confusion over what is and is not countable. Significant portion of discrepancies.
- There was no charge of loss of institutional control.
- Address one other allegation: During the summer, coaching staff was disciplining unexcused absences from class. Reprimanding players during the season is a normal situation. Not permissible during summer months. We made a mistake.
- repeat violator rule. Aware that may be subject to this rule because of 1996 Fab Five case. Penalties are up to NCAA to decide, rules allow for discretion. Probation period overlaps with current violations by a few months.
- Created failsafe procedure for internal tracking.
- CARA forms have system with notices to coaches/AD and eventually president.
- Quality control staff is no longer present in any situation that could be construed as a coaching situation.
- Next steps: Spend time reviewing all allegations and see how they match up with internal investigation. If details do not match, will provide info. NCAA has requested additional information. Standard and will prepare responses. Will self-impose sanctions. Prepare response to the NCAA and will have a hearing in August. Until file response, will not be discussing the investigation.
- No accusation is trivial. We take this report very seriously and will learn from it and get better. Leadership has been the foundation of this program and will be in the future.

- As the head coach, it is my responsibility. I will do all I can to carefully monitor the activities.
- Make sure no compliance problems in the future.
- Be very open and very transparent.
- Proud of team. Excited about the program.

Brandon: Based on my reading, there was no one that was maliciously falsifying documents. My read is we had a breakdown internally in some of our policy and procedures. That led us to where we are today more than anyone individual being incompetent or malicious.

"Rich Rodriguez is our football coach and will be our football coach next year"

Practicegate presser


University of Michigan officials will hold a media briefing at 1 p.m. today to discuss the NCAA investigation into the football program.

The briefing will include university president Mary Sue Coleman, incoming athletic director David Brandon and football coach Rich Rodriguez.

I don't know what this means really. I've been thinking myself in circles as to whether this is good or bad, but really, we'll just have to wait and see what they say. will be live blogging it, and if it's up on MGoBlue, I'll watch and post notes afterwards here.

May the Force(ier) be with us.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What did you expect?

After Michigan needed overtime to be a bottom of the barrel Iowa team last Tuesday, some people decided that the massive amount of evidence supporting the idea that Michigan is a bad basketball team with no hope for the future should be thrown out because, well, they kept fighting and maybe the can shoot. Moral victories and coaching/playing for pride, hard fought, etc. And then they lost to last place in the Big Ten Penn State. At which point, I need to once again say: This is a bad basketball team with no hope for the next two years.

For much of this season, Michigan has been poorly coached, outmatched on the floor, and downright bad. They can't shoot, and there's little evidence pointing to the fact that they'll be better next year. They are losing their most consistent scorer--top scorer in Big Ten play, to boot--as well as the only other center on the roster. There's a chance their most prolific scorer will leave the team early for the NBA. And the coach who inspired so much hope last season, bringing Michigan to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade, has shown a complete regression on all fronts and looks hapless to figure things out. With a middling recruiting class coming in next year and a coach who historically hasn't been able to recruit on the level of the national elite, the Michigan program looks to be headed in the complete wrong direction.

Anything but pessimism for this team is entirely misguided.

It's a shame, too, because during the first half of the Penn State game, and one of the first times all season, Michigan's offense finally looked complex. There was movement on the floor, back screens, flashes to the basket, and hell, even Novak and Douglass started driving into the lane--Beilein clearly had been working on this in practice, and the team looked competent. Manny Harris played from both sides of the floor instead of just standing as a fixture on the left shoulder, and consequently had one of his better games of the season. And yet, in the end, the team shot 6-28 from three-point range (four of those makes by Harris who, again, is about 50/50 to leave the team at the end of the year) and proved to be completely inept on offense. How do you build a three-point shooting team around players that can't hit three pointers? Who has Beilein brought in that can contribute?

This program is in serious trouble.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger and women's Olympic hockey (no, not like that)

So because the sports world is all abuzz about Tiger's statement earlier today, I feel like I'll chime in, however briefly. First, anyone who wanted/wants Tiger to answer questions, whatever those may be, are basically shock journalist and voyeurs. Tiger doesn't need to answer any questions about any of this. It is entirely a personal matter, and if you say he sacrificed that when he became the most known athlete on the planet, I call bullshit. Success and a celebrity do not strip you of the basic tenets of privacy.

There will invariably now be lots of "was he sincere" debates going on. I don't see any way that you can argue that he isn't. The fact that he's clearly putting getting his life back on track in front of coming back to golf is proof enough that he's taking this seriously and is showing genuine contrition. How many athletes in similar situations would say, "I need to make myself a better person and can only do that by returning my life to normalcy."? Woods is putting his career aside entirely to get his life in order. Although that line of scripted hugs after the statement was a little hokey.

Women's Olympic hockey
I've been watching as much Olympic hockey as I can, including women's ice hockey which is the very definition of a two-team race. The American and Canadian women's teams are light years beyond their competition. The American women's goals for-goals against is a staggering 31-1 through three games while the Canadian women's goals for-goals against is even worse through three, at 41-2. We know what the gold medal game is going to be. At this point, it's a turtle's race to the bronze.

The one thing that women's hockey needs to do to alleviate some of these ridiculous blowouts is to finally allowing checking. If there's anything I've learned from spending my last four years in "non-contact" adult leagues, it's that defending highly skilled players in space without being able to check is really, really difficult. I couldn't even begin to imagine doing that on an Olympic sheet of ice. (Scratch that. One of the sheets of ice at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube where I skated for a time is Olympic sized. It's quite difficult.)

What checking does is it essentially limits the room on the ice. When you can't check, a player can skate the puck into the corner of the offensive zone and dipsy doodle around until someone is open if he/she is skilled enough. Moving the puck through and around a defenders stick/skates is very difficult, but is not an unprecedented skill. If you're able to check and a player heads to the corner with the puck, you pin him/her along the boards and wait for help/take the puck yourself. The American and Canadian women's teams are so well coached and are so skilled that it looks like pros playing with amateurs when in fact, some of the other countries are not too far off skillwise but may not have the coaching to utilize/defend this space.

This isn't meant to be a way for the rest of the world to catch up, per say, but it is an addition to the game that would make it more even. There's a significant premium put on skill players in non-hitting leagues because of their ability to make fancy moves around players. The way to neutralizes this normally is by laying a body on them, and if you take that away, you start to see the kinds of 18-0 scores that Canada put up earlier in the Olympics.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We beat Iowa. WOOOOO

Grit and determination and hard-fought. These are terms sure to be slung about concerning last night's win over lowly Iowa. The Michigan men's basketball team has fallen so far, so quickly, that an overtime win against 9-18 (3-11 Big Ten) Iowa is seen as a confidence building, stepping stone toward mediocrity or better, The Future.

I'm being unfair here. I don't like this basketball team and I want to see it deconstructed as quickly as possible. But then again, I don't like any of my sports teams currently, and seeing as Michigan basketball is the only one I'm currently talking about, it's probably getting the bluntest end of the blunt object I'm smashing my hopes with.

Last night demonstrated a few things though. Primarily, that Michigan's struggles probably aren't solely because of three-point shooting, as had been speculated around the internets all year. Michigan shot a blazing 14-27 (51.9%) from outside in this game, albeit poorly from inside the arc. Regardless, though, Michigan finally shot well from outside but needed a last ditch three-pointer from DeShawn Sims to send the game into overtime for a victory over a bottom-dwelling Big Ten squad.

The other thing we saw last night was that Michigan simply cannot guard the pick and roll, much of this falling on the shoulders of Darius Morris, who I have been quick to praise around these parts. Time and again, Morris wasn't strong enough or quick enough to fight over screens and stay with his man, nor was he quick enough or got enough help to go under the screens. Iowa got tons of good looks and ended up converting many of them, shooting a similarly great 10-22 (45.5%) from outside. Morris will get older and faster and wiser and will hopefully be able to work through this issue in the future, but what concerned me more was that Beilein once again failed to attempt anything aside from man-to-man. With how much the team was struggling with the pick and roll, a 1-3-1 or 2-3 would've kept Iowa on their toes and help nullify the massive advantage they had here, as well as help Zack Novak cover Aaron Fuller who he was clearly incapable of checking all night--Fuller shredded the team for 30 points on 11-13 shooting and 6 offensive rebounds.

So what can we take away from this? Nothing, really. The season is still long-since over. The team's most effective player is still graduating, with the looming possibility that their best scorer will leave early for the NBA. And we saw the brief, fleeting moments of brilliance that we've come to expect the last two years from the likes of LLP, Zach Gibson, and Stu Douglass. Otherwise, we didn't learn anything from this game. I just want this team to be completely reassembled with new parts. Unfortuantely, we're going to have to suffer through at least two more years of extreme mediocrity before we see even a glint of hope.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

As we near the ever-depressing offseason and I becoming increasingly more apathetic toward the caving basketball team, posts around these parts will become more sparse and probably more random. I'd like to do basketball/football player-by-player recaps, but they'd likely be based mostly on my recollection of their play/stats, which is to say, not particularly enlightening or accurate. But we'll see how it goes. Football would probably only be the skill positions while basketball would get a pretty full recap. If anyone knows where I can find torrents of the basketball games, I'd like to do some play breakdown like I did during the football season.

Otherwise, there will probably be more pop culture and general sports comments, emphasis on the latter. I'll probably spend some time talking Red Wings around these parts when the playoffs roll around (if they roll around, I suppose). And various NBA column are likely.

Michigan columns/information should continue in full force when things start happening again in a month for spring practice and then later when fall practice starts again. It's going to be another depressing 6 months.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Good music Friday: Darius Morris edition

I think I've decided to make this a permanent thing in the football offseason, half because our basketball team is awful and I don't want to talk about it for five days in a row, and half because I rarely want to do any work on Fridays period.

But my plea/prediction/whatever for more Darius Morris appears to be happening. Dude turned in one of his best games of the season last night and looks to only be getting better. So this week's edition is dedicated to him in the sense that he's into a drugged out Blue's Clues Steve and spacey southern hip hop:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Losing faith

One of the things this blog has bemoaned for much of the basketball season is Beilein's refusal to play the 1-3-1 zone. It struggled in the nonconference schedule, so much so that Beilein has almost completely gotten away from it in favor of mostly man-to-man defense and for a time, the putrid 2-3 zone whose gaping holes more or less lost two games for the Wolverines this year. But this underlies something that I couldn't quite put my finger on until I talked with Andrew Kahn on The Sports Journalists, and he said that it appears that Beilein has completely lost faith in his system.

Though we don't talk about it on the above podcast, we talked a little bit about how Beilein has basically abandoned his system in favor of trying to Make Things Work, which has explicitly not happened. The abandonment of the 1-3-1 is the most obvious example. After the loss to Michigan State, MGoBlog had a good point about the 1-3-1 and why it probably wasn't the best idea to run it for the last play of the game:

When Beilein went into the 1-3-1 on the last possession I thought that was a mistake. The 1-3-1 is an extremely high pressure defense that offers up a lot of easy two-point looks. You're up one and playing a team that doesn't have a lot of shooters or take a lot of threes. If you're going to go into a zone it should be a post-packing one that tends to allow open looks from three, like the 2-3 Michigan has played infrequently.

Aside from the 2-3 zone comment, this was basically my thoughts exactly. The problem is, Beilein has been struggling so hard to make things work that every time the 1-3-1 gives up a good look, he goes away from it. For example, Michigan ran the 1-3-1 in a win against Indiana on the first possession of the game. Indiana got an open 3 and hit it--it would end up being their only 3-pointer made the entire game. From that point on, Beilein never used the 1-3-1 again, playing strictly man-to-man. And while it may be difficult to fault him when Michigan won resoundingly and Indiana didn't hit another three the entire game, it does speak to the overall problem.

After the game, I mentioned this but couldn't really come to the conclusion above:

Beilein didn't once use the 2-3 zone, likely because of how poor it's been for the team this year, but he also didn't really use the 1-3-1, which is starting to worry me a little bit. IICR, they used the 1-3-1 on only one possession early in the game. It produced a good three point look for Indiana--that ended up being their only three point basket of the game--and Beilein never went back to it. It's not necessarily that Michigan can't guard man-to-man, but Beilein refusing to give different looks on defense just furthers my point that he's been mostly absent in games. Toward the end of the blowout, why didn't Michigan get a little more practice in the 1-3-1 if they're struggling with it? I just don't get it.

But at this point, I'm not even so bothered by the fact that he doesn't use the 1-3-1 and give teams different looks as I am the fact that he's completely lost faith in his systems. I suppose having a 3-point shooting team that can't hit 3-pointers can do that to you--the 11 attempted 3-pointers in the game against Wisconsin may be another indication that he's moving away from his traditional system--but in general, I'm just bothered by Beilein abandoning his schemes. It wouldn't be such a problem if he was fixing things and the team was actually winning. But he's not and they aren't, and all these tweaks feel more like panicked makeshift solutions rather than long-term remedies to the team's myriad problems.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More Morris kthxbye

This blog has made no secret of its optimism about Darius Morris and his potential elevation into stardom next year. I touched on it a bit on yesterday's podcast, and various other places around this blog, but more or less, I think Morris has arguably the most upside on the team and has the skillset to really run Beilein's system despite the massive deficiencies elsewhere.

It was no surprise then, that he started the game against Wisconsin over the weekend, a game I didn't watch the first half of because, well, why? Dude has been one of the more productive and effective players on the team in the last two games and really looks to be coming into his game. Against Wisconsin and Northwestern, he went 6-9 from the floor, 6-7 from the free throw line, and had a 2.5 assist/turnover ratio. And better yet, those numbers came against two pretty good teams--Wisconsin is a tourny lock and NW is a bubble squad.

I haven't been particularly happy with Beilein this season and have been upset with his lack of recruiting a big man in all the time he's been here. But then he gives us stuff like this, and I remember that he might actually be an intelligent NCAA coach:

Freshman guard Darius Morris started Saturday against Wisconsin because U-M wanted someone who could dribble into the lane and find teammates.

Really? What a novel idea. Why haven't we been doing this all season? Instead, we let Manny Harris run into the lane and try and draw a foul as he charges into four defenders. But Morris' lack of minutes early this season is almost certainly because of his lack of experience as opposed to some random aversion to playing him, but man, at the point when this season started to look like a toss up even--what's the worst that can happen at that point?--I'd have liked to see him in the game instead of the perpetually disappointing LLP.

I assume Morris' start against Wisconsin is the beginning of the Morris era and we rarely see him start games on the bench for the rest of his time at Michigan. A lot has been made of the fact that he can't really shoot from the outside, to which I say, bullpuckey. I don't want Morris shooting threes anyway. I want him to be a point guard, something that he's increasingly proving he might actually be. I'm exceedingly pessimistic about the 2011 season but that might change as Morris gets more and more playing time and we get to see just how well he can run the offense.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I promised a podcast a long time ago. It didn't happen. But now it has. I talked with Andrew Kahn of The Sports Journalists about Michigan's basketball trouble and very briefly about the football recruiting haul.

Topics on the slate: Manny vs. Sims, feelings toward Beilein, and the general demise of the hoops team. It's a little hard to hear me at times (we tried a few different times to get the audio to work), and I don't think I sound anything like that in real life. But then again, a complete stranger told me over the weekend that I wasn't nearly as cool as she thought I thought I was during her eaves dropping. But that's another thing altogether.

In any case, check it out here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Unemployment reaches 24.7%

I'm the online editor of a few small magazines that you've never heard of. One of them deals pretty much exclusively with the construction industry, and as my daily tasks dictate, I end up posting a few different news items on the topic each day. I've often commented to coworkers that I hate doing the news for that particular magazine because invariably, every week I have to report on the massive layoffs and skyrocketing unemployment of the construction industry, which, in itself, is largely responsible for the unemployment numbers of the general American public. Just today I reported that the construction industry's unemployment reached 24.7% in January with little or no recourse in sight aside from stimulus-funded highway projects.

Michigan basketball is shooting 29.3% from three-point range and 41% from the field in total. They're 4-7 in the Big Ten and 11-12 overall. There is no hope in sight, especially with the departure of DeShawn Sims and at the end of the year and the possible loss of Only Other Scorer, Manny Harris.

The point being, I'm getting kind of tired of writing this, as I'm sure you're tired of reading it. The 2009-2010 season is hopelessly dragging out. The team hasn't shown any quantifiable improvement since maybe (maybe) the win against a slumping UConn team. The rest of the season has been plagued by poor shooting, poorer decisions, no defense, a lack of coaching, and various other inconsistencies.

One interesting thing I've learned about the construction industry, is that its activity can be pretty accurately charted because of its relation to the architecture field. For example, if the architecture industry is going through a down year, it may not be so for the construction industry. But the following year, when those projects are to be built, the construction industry meets the same decline the architecture industry had the previous year. The basketball team, however, has no such chartables, but the predictions of the team next year all point to dire. This is bad. The future of the basketball program, at least the immediate future (the next three years or so) looks really dangerous.

Terror level has been upgraded to Amaker-minus. We're in trouble.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Good music Friday

Because I don't want to talk about Drew Sharp or recruiting or basketball anymore, you get The Constantines live. What better way to celebrate the end of the week than with the best live band on the planet?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Drew Sharp: Terrorist

Drew Sharp, Free Press columnist and all-around baseless moralist, recently went on the radio to blast Rich Rodriguez for the signing of Florida safety prospect Demar Dorsey, a player who apparently, at the age of 16, was acquitted of several charges: "He was acquitted by a jury on a 2008 charge of robbery with a deadly weapon, and had an earlier charge of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling dismissed," according to On the program, Sharp questions why Rodriguez would take a chance on a player who had previously shown a checkered past after the Justin Feagin issues last year--something that Sharp still doesn't understand, asserting that Feagin was a cocaine dealer in high school.

"You guys [fans] only want to hear what you wish to hear," says Sharp. "This is why I have very little respect for the fans out there. Because you guys do not want to hear what you need to hear. I feel that's my job and most of the people in the job that I have, my co-host included in this, we feel that it's incumbent upon us to tell you want we think you need to know and then you can form your own opinions."

Unfortunately, in Sharp's telling us what we need to know, he editorializes. But not in any meaningful or insightful manner. Frankly, Sharp uses terrorism--defined loosely as "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion"--as a means to get you to agree with his way of thinking. Want to argue that Dorsey is a risk for the Michigan program? Why don't you, without knowledge or reasonable doubt, speculate that most (all) high school athletes that get into trouble only get acquitted because of their stature or that the charges Dorsey was acquitted of are the only ones that the public knows about. Sharp even shamefully goes so low as to compare a 16-year-old Dorsey to OJ Simpson: "OJ got acquitted. Most of us still think he did it."

Sharp has a sense of entitlement from working as a journalist for the Free Press. He says, "If you're a head coach, why put yourself in that spot? And that was the tone that myself and other reporters there asked Rich this afternoon. I was making sure, are you comfortable that you're basically putting your career on whether or not this young man can keep his nose clean, figuratively speaking." Sharp feels the need to not only moralize everything, but more importantly, to make everyone aware of his morals and the morals that he thinks you should have. In his eyes, the signing of an 16 year old, acquitted on all charges, is outside the bounds of this morality and thus condemnable. He boldly claims to being done with second chances. But what's worse is that this may not even be a second chance for Dorsey. Sharp seems not to acknowledge the idea that his acquittal may have been for legitimate reasons. Because in Sharp's world, the world governed and run by the upstanding morals of himself, high school student athletes are never innocent, even when they are; second chances are wasted on the privileged who ultimately throw them away on the slippery slope to hell.

I try not to spend a lot of time editorializing on the local newspaper because it doesn't much concern me. Drew Sharp should be embarrassed though. This is offensive, dismissive, and presumptuous. And frankly, I wonder when it crosses the line into slander.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rich Rod National Signing Day presser


- Staff did outstanding job developing relationships and signing guys that will be a great fit for the program
- Reluctant to rank recruiting class. Sounds like coachspeak but you need to wait a couple of years and rank how good the class is.
- If we signed them, we think they’re great fits for the program.
- If we get someone on campus, we think we have a great chance of getting him.
- People on campus are friendly (everywhere) and that helps. A great community to feel comfortable with. Fans in general.
- On Gardner: Devin got in a few days late. Only doing academics. Starting workouts today or tomorrow. Eager to learn and very competitive. Why bring another QB? We want guys that like competition. Have quality of guys at every position competing, you get better.
- On Hopkins: Big back out of Texas. Like to have one big back in the game when they have two backs in the game on many occasions.
- On Jeremy Jackson: Easiest commit they got. Stands on his own merits. Good player and hard worker. Need big strong receivers and guys that will go get the ball. Jeremy fits that bill. Helped recruit other players.
- On Ricardo Miller: Big strong physical guy. Great personality. Always has a smile on his face.
- On Christian Pace: Have a need at center and at guard. Played in great HS program (Avon Lake). Play center but will also learn guard.
- On Gerald Robinson: Big strong physical guy that can probably play safety as well.
- On Austin White: Comes from a great family. Liked his ability but thing that stood out was that he wanted to take every rep. Very excited about him. Has the skillset.
- Want to meet needs first. Don’t want to turn down anyone good, but have to fit needs. Defensive numbers way down. Won’t get balanced this year but will within another year. Had to meet needs on defense: Front line, linebacker, secondary.
- On Richard Ash: Big DT from Pahokee. Still had to battle with him up through this morning. Athletic enough to play DE, big enough to play DT.
- On Courtney Avery: DB out of Ohio. Played QB on offense and CB on defense. 1,000 point scorer in basketball. Noticed him about a year ago. Jumped in the fold early. Try him at corner first but he’s a good enough athlete to help at several positions.
- On Jibreel Black: One of top guys on the board for D-line. Could play DE or DT.
- On Cullen Christian: Goes by nickname “Buck”. Long arms, good athlete. Very coachable. Tracking him for a couple of years. Very excited about Cullen. [ed. Talked about starting players and that they don’t promise anything but let them compete.] Cullen will have that opportunity.
- On Drew Dileo: Great senior year. Good to see guys committed and have a good senior year. Return punts and kicks as well as slot.
- On Demar Dorsey: Cousins with Denard Robinson. If McGee was lead recruiter, Denard was second lead. He’s 100% on guys he hosts during visits. Very fast and athletic. May run track as well. Can play corner at safety. Will probably start at corner and then will teach him safety.
- On Josh Furman: Look to play on defense. Probably play safety/OLB (spinner).
- On Will Hagerup: Big need for punter. Hagerup will fit that need. Best they saw on film. Works on craft every day.
- On Carvin Johnson: HS coach called RichRod and said he had a guy that was a sleeper. Suddenly, other teams started recruiting him once he was committed. Fills big need at safety.
- On Conelius Jones: Nickname “Trail”. QB/athlete. “As we learned a few years ago, you can’t have too many QBs.” [ed. Yikes!]
- On Antonio Kinard: Tall linebacker. Call him “TK”. Has work to do academically. If he doesn’t get there, will place him in JUCO and try to get him back.
- On Jordan Paskorz: Big DE. Close to 245 lbs now. Didn’t get older brother when coaching at WVU. Replacing one of best players in the country in Brandon Graham.
- On Marvin Robinson: Safety been committed for a while. Is friends with Ricardo Miller. Miller was one of best recruiters from this class.
- On Davion Rogers: Tall linebacker. Trying to get bigger and more athletic defensively.
- On Jake Ryan: Great program (St. Ignatious, Ohio). Had a great senior year. Like to save spots for great senior years. Grew 2-3 inches, gained 20 pounds. Became MLB.
- On Terrence (DT or DE) and Terry Talbott (CB): Sold on them after watching film and seeing them in camp.
[ed. The feed cut out here and I missed a few players—Ray Vinopal, D.J. Williamson, and Ken Wilkins]
- Defensive need was at every position. Can never have too many defensive linemen. Need linebackers and guys that can play in space. [ed. Again, yikes]
- Don’t put too much on these players too soon. Immediately, the competition has risen on the defensive side of the football.
- Didn't see much negativity in recruiting.
- Dorsey had arrests in background? Everyone they sign they do background checks on themselves. Dangerous and unfair to pass judgment on something you read on the Internet without all the facts. [ed. Definitely had arrests, judging by RR's answer.]
- Ask players whether or not someone will be a good teammate. Can't speak highly enough on his current players in recuiting process.
- RichRod annoyed with questions on Dorsey's criminal records. "Don't judge on something until you get all the facts."
- Guy might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Need to look into why. He did that as a juvenile. Have to look at the whole story before you pass judgment. I think that's dangerous to do.
- "Let's be positive. Can we be positive? We've got a great recruiting class and a great group."
- Not as many recruits going to the wire as they used to. Battles are more publicized now that they're on TV, etc.
- Less decommits this year: "Just the way it fell." Normally not totally surprised. If a guy is committed to you and still visiting other schools, he's not committed. He's just interested.
- Difficult to be swayed by the star system? It's not all bad. You have to prove yourself again. Some kids get sense of entitement. Don't feel that way about the players Michigan signed.
- For the most part, recruiting services do a really good job getting film and kids' names out there. Not doing a coaches job but helping coaches do their job.
- Demar was one of three or four guys they were unsure of this morning.
- Any chance you'll offer anyone else unsigned? Pretty much filled. May have spot for one more. But never say never.
- "Have one in particular, we think may not qualify." [ed. probably Antonio Kinard]
- Happy with amount of local recruits? Yeah. Would like to have more but need the right fit for the program.
- Next year's class will have a bigger need in O-linemen


Sometime in the middle of the second half yesterday, when the game looked nearly out of reach, John Beilein sat down on the bench. He just sat there and watched. He watched as Michigan fumbled around with the ball, throwing up errant shots and stumbling through double teams. He didn't look angry or confused. He had the look of a man who understood his fate and new exactly where it was all headed. And as he sat there, content not to coach or attempt a comeback, I couldn't help but get the distinct feeling that sometime in the last month, Beilein lost this team.

Maybe it was the heartbreaking loss to Michigan State. I watched The Journey on the Big Ten Network just before the Northwestern game last night and saw DeShawn Sims say after the MSU loss, "It's like I don't want to play basketball anymore", or something similar. Maybe it was suspending the on-the-court leader Manny Harris for a game for something that I've got on good standing with two people--at least one of who I know is more or less explicitly in the know--was a pretty glaring overreaction on Beilein's behalf. Or maybe it's the disappointment of stumbling from #15 preseason to a paltry 11-11. I don't know where it happened, but I don't think Beilein has control of this team anymore.

More materially, last night was far and away Michigan's worst performance of the season. They managed 22 second-half points, 15 of which came in the last four minutes of the game when both teams had cleared their benches and we basically living at the free throw line. Manny Harris was bad. DeShawn Sims was much worse. The team shot 8-28 from three point land and 32.7% from the floor. They were even outrebounded by the only team in the Big Ten that's as bad at rebounding as they are. A bad basketball team, no doubt about it. And next year only looks to get worse.

As far as personal performances go, Sims turned in one of the more shameful games I've seen lately. He walked around the court for most of the game, allowing NW to get to the bucket with ease. And for most of the game was completely diminutive. Early in the second half, he got the ball on the block, made a really great, quick spin move to get to the bucket, and attempted to throw down arguably the hardest dunk he had all season. The ball fruitlessly splashed out of the basket. That was the last sign of life we saw from Sims. In more positive news, Darius Morris, who I think is going to have to become the most integral part of the team next year, had a pretty good game, going 3-5 from the floor, 4-5 from the free throw line, and adding two assists to only one turnover. I like this kid's game.

What to expect going forward? More of the same, really. This looks like a team that stopped caring. I don't expect any improvement on this or similar performances for the rest of the season. At least Manny is sticking around for another year. I guess that's awesome.

It's National Signing Day


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Harris, Ariza, and NCAA tournament

Because no one wants to read the preview of a team we already played and because you can all recite my hoops previews verbatim at this point, I'm skipping the Northwestern preview. Hopefully we don't suck like we did last time we played them.

I've no doubt raised some eyebrows around these parts with my thoughts on Manny Harris and his NBA prospects. It should be noted, however, that when it comes to thinking about NBA personnel and style of play, I largely favor the FreeDarko way of thinking: This is to say, I believe the NBA is increasingly moving toward hyper-athletic tweeners and a blurred sense of definite positions, giving way to a uniform, flowing attack (see: Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trailblazers, etc.). And in that regard, I think that DeShawn Sims projects much better to the NBA (a tweener, SF/PF that can shoot from the outside, play the post, rebound) than Harris, who is a fairly rigid and somewhat unassuming shooting guard.

I bring all of this up because Bethlehem Shoals, one of the FreeDarko writers and recent FanHouse blogger wrote a piece on Trevor Ariza that really hit me when thinking about Harris. Basically, Shoals talks about Ariza's move from LA to Houston and his subsequent position as The Go-To Guy. Says Shoals,

In Houston, with Tracy McGrady off in the woods trying to walk, Ariza assumed the mantle of go-to guy. That meant firing threes at will, and not just from that one spot; revealing plainly to the world the limits of his ball-handling; and making us realize the difference between a slasher and a guy who creates his own shot.

Man, I can't think of a better description of Harris than this: A guy who has been forced into the superstar role because there's not much else on the roster and whose deficiencies are plain as day (poor decision making, can't drive left, lack of strength getting to the bucket, subpar outside shooting). Regardless of whether or not you think I'm crazy on the topic or not, I suggest reading the piece. And everything Bethlehem Shoals/FreeDarko produces. Best basketball writing around.

Meanwhile, UMHoops has an interview up with president Aran Smith that covers Harris and Sims' pro potential. Consume.

96 Team Tournament
So Sports by Brooks recently said that a 96-team NCAA tournament was a "done deal". The internet freaked out.

Let me make this as clear as possible: This is not true. Relax. They cite a few different unnamed sources inside ESPN that said that this was over and done with and everyone else in the America was just going to have to deal with it. And Michael Wilbon had insider information that Rich Rodriguez was going to be ousted three months ago.

The SportBusiness Journal writes:

Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball and business strategies, is leading the RFP process.

“There continues to be dialogue with a number of entities that are interested in submitting a proposal,” he said, but no time frame has been established. Shaheen has said that the NCAA is doing due diligence to explore alternative tournament formats, but it is not leaning in any direction.

However, industry sources indicated that the NCAA has until Aug. 31 to exercise its right, though it hopes to conclude the process much earlier.

Now, of course anyone inside the NCAA isn't going to go off spouting about the change until it actually occurs, but I'll believe this over unnamed sources inside a company that's attempting to put in multi-billion dollar bid to get a stranglehold on one of the most profitable sporting events in the world--to boot, the NCAA could opt out of this contract and still not expand. I'm not suggesting that I the NCAA won't expand or that it won't in the future. But the idea that this is a done deal right now is borderline ridiculous. Not to mention that SbB is basically the TMZ of sports reporting, a slightly more reputable Deadspin.

No thanks. Like Wilbon, come back to me when something actually happens. Until then, it's all just static.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Random things

So for those of you with better things to do than watch the Senior Bowl (all of you), Brandon Graham won the game MVP as he was completely unblockable, caused fumbles and ran around more than men of his size sould be able to run around; motors and grit and heart and whatnot. The other theme to come out of the game is that Tim Tebow isn't very good at throwing a football, which we all already knew once we saw him play with Percy Harvin.

But Graham delivered a number of lyrical gems in his sideline interview like "Whoever gets me is going to love me." Most players interviewed were at least somewhat humbled. Thanked god. Talked about prepping for the pros. Brandon Graham wants nothing to do with your humility. He basically just talked about how great he was for 1:30. This may stem from the fact that he was arguably the best defensive lineman in the country this year (yeah, I'm putting him up there with Suh) despite being on a truly atrocious defense. Dude knows how great he is. He will be the next great Wolverine in the NFL barring injury or dog fighting or some other unforeseen event.

Michigan beat Iowa this weekend in what was a hideous display of athleticism by the Hawkeyes. They didn't make a field goal for the first 10 minutes of the game. It was basically unwatchable. DeShawn Sims went all beast mode again and Manny Harris put up 20 points (albeit on 6-16 from the field; this needs to change kthxbye). The team still can't shoot from beyond the arc, going 7-26 (26.9%). Like I said last week, Michigan is going to be in trouble once Sims is gone, especially if we don't see appreciably better shooting next year. Terror level has been raised to Amaker. You'll be informed if it changes.

I gave my thoughts on the Friday game over the weekend. I'm pretty upset I didn't see the end of the game now that it's turned into a massive controversy. But from the sound of it Michigan just got screwed on a crappy rule in hockey. I've played the game my entire life and have been subject to a number of "whistles blown before the puck is covered because the ref lost sight of it" calls. They suck, but thems the shakes. By the time we're dead and gone, they more or less balance out. But when it rains it pours, and Michigan fans have been getting dumped on for a while. Tough loss to take but not a wholly unprecedented whistle/call. This happens to hockey teams. Frankly, Michigan didn't deserve to win that game. Then again, MSU didn't deserve to win an 18-turnover hoops performance, but somehow that happened...

It's happening. Wednesday is National Signing Day. Michigan is still in on a few different players and I'm personally hoping for Demar Dorsey, a Florida safety and Denard Robinson's next of kin, to commit and fill up one of Michigan's final spots. Other than that, I'll take what we get and re-evaluate where the team. Overall, I think it's a good recruiting class if there aren't too many decommits in the next few days.