Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Good music Tuesday: Vacation edition

I'm headed of to Los Angeles for the week to see the girlfriend and others. I'll be back Tuesday, likely with plenty of spring practice to talk about. Also, hopefully our hockey team will still be alive. Until then, enjoy, like, the best song ever written.

Inside Michigan Football episode

MGoBlue originally aired this yesterday, but seeing as it's been uploaded to the YouTubes, I'll post it here.

Not really too much to glean here. You see a few of the running back in the Wolverine Drill, where Vincent Smith famously made a name for himself last year. Nothing quite that electrifying in this video. One suggestion, please: If Denard is going to be our nominal backup this year, can someone please fix his throwing motion?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Michigan hockey and Shawn Hunwick

I've lamented before around these parts that I've seen a bare minimum of hockey games this year. Of the things I've noted was that Michigan's break-in was ineffective and inherently kind of flawed (in the game I watched against MSU, anyway):

What I saw last night were a lot of schematic issues, the gravest of which was the team's break-in. Michigan spent a lot of time last night trying to stretch the ice by sending their wingers to the MSU blue line. That's all fine and good, but MSU almost always had three men back defensively and Michigan had no speed through the neutral zone, sans the puck carrier. This necessitated two different break ins: a dump and chase to the opposite side of the offensive zone or a 50-foot shot from the side boards. The dump and chase inherently didn't work because Michigan didn't have any speed. The MSU defenseman would just turn around for an easy breakout. The other break-in, a long shot from the sideboards, is almost never going to be effective. The only time it would is if you've got another player crashing the net, which again Michigan never did because of a lack of speed.

This was completely remedied this weekend, and watching the team, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which they weren't dominant all year. They were consistently entering the offensive zone with three men, crashing the net effectively and looking to set up their offense rather than taking their chances with the dump and chase. Michigan attacked all weekend and it paid off.

The bigger storyline, however, is Shawn Hunwick, a walk-on who is getting a shot because of a groin injury to nominal starter Bryan Hogan. It should be noted that Hunwick (according to the Big Ten Network announcers before the Miami game) played for Honeybaked, one of the premiere amateur hockey programs in the country, not to mention the Detroit area. (Personal aside: I have long contended that I had a pretty decent shot of making the Michigan club hockey team. A few of the guys I played with in high school made the team and it gave me hope that I might've had a chance. I never tried out as I was too busy with The Michigan Daily and, ya know, school work. So when I heard that Michigan's walk-on goalie played Honeybaked, a club I had 0.00% chance of ever making, I sort of freaked out and now find it even more difficult to imagine how good the Michigan players actually are. But I digress.) Hunwick's walk-on status probably has as much to do with his diminutive 5'7" frame as anything else, given that pedigree. He has good positioning and a high hockey IQ, and is clearly capable of performing on this level. But he does have one glaring, terrifying flaw in his game: rebound control.

Watching Hunwick play is frightening. And not in that occasionally exciting Al Montoya "You're not a defenseman so get back in the net and let them handle the puck, dear God," kind of way. No, there's a pretty obvious fundamental flaw in the way he handles rebounds, and it's not something that works itself out with more playing time. Hunwick attacks shots. Given his size, he might have to. He can't sit back in the net and direct rebounds the way larger goalies can. This is not to say that coming out and challenging shots is wrong (in fact, it's one of the strongest parts of his game), but Hunwick has to exert himself so much--stretching to make a save, moving quickly to cover the corners, etc.--that steering rebounds to the corners and out of danger is something he seems unable to do.

This hasn't really been an issue yet. Michigan defensemen and back checking centers have frequently found themselves in the right place at the right time, playing strong in front of the net and clearing out players and rebounds. But Hunwick's play screams of high variance: he's going to make a lot of good saves and really carry a team sometimes, but will also give up soft ones because of big, errant rebounds. God forbid we go to overtime in any game. My heart won't be able to take it.

Hunwick is a wonderful story and is playing very well. He's made a few saves that have absolutely saved Michigan's season, but he's also caused a few too many scares for my liking. I'm concerned with how sustainable winning is (especially in a win-or-go-home format) with a goalie that plays this frantic a style.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring roster

So MGoBlue has the spring roster up and there are a few notable things:
  • No Nick Sheridan. I haven't heard any word of where Sheridan is or that he had plans to go elsewhere, but last year was a pretty clear signal that he wasn't going to play. Lo and behold, though, Sheridan doesn't even appear on the roster. Currently listed are: Forcier, Robinson, Devin Gardner, walk-on redshirt freshman Nader Furrha, and redshirt sophomore Jack Kennedy (who looked impressive in last year's spring game and got in for one or two snaps at the end of the Delaware State game). Nick Sheridan, wherever you are, good luck.
  • Redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon is officially listed as a safety. A wide receiver in high school out of Inkster, Gordon, who had been rumored as someone who might flip to either linebacker or safety, is now officially a safety, or so says the roster. I wouldn't be surprised if he got a few looks on the offensive side of the ball as well, but it looks like he's moving primarily to the defensive side of the ball.
  • Another interesting move is that Teric Jones is also listed as a safety. Jones is undersized (5'9", 194 lbs) for safety and stuck in a position of, probably, the most depth on the Michigan roster (slot receiver). This sounds and feels a little bit like a Kovacs replacement/backup, but we'll have to wait and see. This is really surprising.
  • More safeties? Why not. Brandin Hawthorn is also a safety on this roster. I don't really know what this means for the linebacker positions, as I assumed Hawthorn would be competing for the Stevie Brown position, but this also feels like a goodbye Kovacs move. Mike Jones is your odds on favorite for the new Stevie Brown.
  • Troy Woolfolk is listed as a cornerback. Probably the move of Jones, Gordon, and Hawthorn to safety, as well as the incoming freshmen made this move a bit less harrowing for the back end of the defense. Woolfolk proved to be a very good corner last year and I'm pretty happy with this.
  • As was rumored, Ryan Van Bergen is listed as a defensive end. He'll be playing the Boy I Wish We Still Had Brandon Graham role.
  • Mark Moundros, who had asked for a look at linebacker, is listed as a fullback. For the time being, it looks like he'll see mostly special teams action and limited time on the offense. That is unless RichRod decides to go back to some fullback looks now that he has a more experienced QB.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Basketball dies spectacularly; other odds and ends

We all know what happened through the Big Ten tournament, which drove me to a brief .gif-posting frenzy for fear of becoming invested in anything lest I be emotionally crushed. And then Evan Turner hit a 40-footer.

I've been critical of Beilein for much of the season, on somewhat tenuous grounds (aside from the shooting regression by the team, they've looked disoriented and lost on the court). But this Ohio State loss and the last second loss to MSU, I think are pretty objective coaching errors. As mentioned around here and MGoBlog in the past, the 1-3-1 defense that Beilein elected to use on MSU's final possession when Michigan was up one point was probably the wrong choice. The 1-3-1 is a high-variance type of defense that provides teams with a fair amount of open 15-foot shots, the likes of which MSU hit to win that game. Not to mention that Michigan's had minimal experience playing the 1-3-1 in games this season. Whether or not Michigan would've won this game had they played man-to-man on that possession is basically a toss up, but the kind of shot that the 1-3-1 gave up in that situation (a shot that's pretty indicative of the scheme) argues that it was the wrong call.

The Turner play was a similar coaching misstep. You don't have to defend the inbounder. Michigan isn't long enough in the first place to make an effective denial of the inbounds pass and the benefits you get from that kind of defense are probably limited given that you'd be sacrificing an extra defender. But to allow OSU to play with two men into the back court and only have one defender is a gross error. There absolutely had to be another defender to guard Turner if Douglass gets screened, like he did. Why didn't you have Manny Harris and Douglass, both in the back court, and able to switch on Turner depending on which way he attacked? Even if you did that, you'd still have favorable numbers (3 vs. 2) in the front court in case OSU tries to heave the ball down the court.

Two massive errors that cost Michigan two of their bigger games this season.

In other news, spring practice starts tomorrow for the football team. Hopefully this will be the return of some steady discussion topics and I can begin regularly posting around these parts again. Also, hockey swept MSU this weekend, which was nice. I don't understand the pairwise at all, so I suggest you all go to Yost Built or MGoBlog for your critical hockey analysis. I hesitate putting any effort or hope into this team judging by the way everything seems to go for Michigan this year. But this casual Friday will certainly see the return of one of my Michigan hockey jerseys at work.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I told you that you should've just watched the cat .gif I so graciously presented. Here's a cat elevator:

Big Ten Tournament: Ohio State

Michigan won a basketball game yesterday. They play another basketball game today. They will lose to Ohio State. As I mentioned to my girlfriend yesterday, Thad Matta could shoot Evan Turner in the face during warm ups, be dragged out in cuffs as Turner is rushed to the hospital and the team copes with what just happened, and Ohio State would still beat Michigan. You can watch the game, but I suggest you stare at this cat for a while.

See you in 2011.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Big Ten Tournament: Iowa

Michigan plays a basketball game today against Iowa. It is the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Impending doom (read: Ohio State) lurks in the second round. If they win, they lose tomorrow. 'Nuff said. You can read actual previews of the game at UMHoops or MGoBlog. I suggest you just watch this:

See you in 2011.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Simply dominated

Michigan played basketball yesterday, or some variation of it anyway. They scored an absurd 14 points in the first half, four of which, I'm told, came because of goaltending violations. They made 15 field goals in 40 minutes, allowed Michigan State to rebound nearly half of their misses, and turned the ball over 19 times. Stick a fork in 'em, this team is finished.

Last week, I wrote this after the Minnesota game:

But not only has this team been unable to put together but a few minutes of well-rounded play this season, the likes of which we saw for a whole game last night, but they haven't even been able to string together stretches of competent play. This team has looked out coached, out matched, and out hustled almost this entire season....

John Beilein sure is lucky RichRod is around. Without him, people might be paying a bit more attention to a basketball team that's quickly headed toward the cellar.

It's sad how prescient that looks a mere five days later, but it's true: This team, and sadly, this program, is headed nowhere but down. Quickly. And if you think that yesterday's game was rock bottom for this team, imagine what it's going to look like next year without the team's most consistent scorer, rebounder, and emotional leader; any semblance of a true center; and possibly, no Manny Harris either.

What's really disappointing is just how obviously defeated this team is and how clear it is that they've given up. People kept talking about how they kept fighting, but frankly, I don't see it. "Keep fighting" as in trying to win games? Of course they are, but nothing this team has done has implied that their really fighting to improve and become anything better than what they are. Is persevering and toughness really attributed to a team that simply goes out on the court and fails the way it has all year?

DeShawn Sims long ago gave up on this team. I'd venture that it was shortly after the Michigan State last-second loss. I mentioned this after it:

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.

And the thing is, I'm not entirely sure he didn't follow through with this. Sims has been lazy and ineffective for much of this end stretch and I'm not sold that it's because teams suddenly learned how to guard him. You can see it when he runs up and down the court or in his half-hearted defense. Sims as given up on this team and this season. I can't blame him. Harris has been similarly out of sorts but not quite as openly deflated; I don't know what's wrong with him, really.

I've given up on this team and have my time card ready in order to punch out early on the 2010-2011 season, but I'll withhold final judgment on them when I see them on the court together.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Good music Friday: It's sunny in Cleveland

Michigan athletics are perpetually disappointing of late. That won't stop be from enjoying the sunniest day Cleveland has seen in at least three months. Nor the new Jonsi--lead singer of Icelandic post-rockers (Christ, does anyone even use that term anymore? I don't know that I've typed that in years. Then again, I've spent most of the last year and a half reviewing T-Pain albums and XBox games) Sigur Ros--record that leaked sometime last week. Nevermind the ridiculous cover art. This song is amazing:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2010: The year that wasn't

What we saw last night was not necessarily what could've been for the Michigan basketball team this year; it's not even really reasonable to argue as much as the team shot a nearly 70% eFG%, 42% from three point range, and saw contributions from every player that saw significant minutes (and even some from players who only made a brief cameo). So no, this isn't really a What Could've Been game, but last night was sort of what we all expected, right? An uptick in three-point shooting as our then-freshman became sophomores, consistent and efficient play from the two stars, solid defense that forced turnovers, and an effective offense that looked like it could steamroll the Big Ten. But that's not what happened in 2010, and to add insult to injury, when I woke up this morning and checked SI.com, the above screen shot was on the front page. I was too disappointed to read the article inside.

This season has been a comedy of errors from poor coaching to poor shooting to, well, some of the worst defense in the country. We aren't even asking that the team play every night like they did last night against Minnesota. That's unreasonable, offensive almost. But not only has this team been unable to put together but a few minutes of well-rounded play this season, the likes of which we saw for a whole game last night, but they haven't even been able to string together stretches of competent play. This team has looked out coached, out matched, and out hustled almost this entire season. It was nice that DeShawn Sims, Zack Gibson, and Anthony Wright were sent out proper on Senior Night.

There's not much I can add to last night in terms of critical analysis. The team shot really well and the offense looked smooth and dangerous. I first noted it after the loss to Penn State, but in that game and since, Michigan has been moving Manny Harris around the floor a lot more on offense and I think it's made the team significantly more potent. Manny may be a good scorer, but sooner or later, teams will figure out how to defend the half of the floor he plays from.

A lot of the movement of Harris, however, comes with the development of Darius Morris, who had another great game last night. When Morris is off the floor, this team looks unguided and lost. Morris is able to get into the lane without picking up his dribble and generally makes the right play. When he's off the floor, the ball goes to Harris on the wing on every single possession and the team waits around for him to try and do something.

So now, we get to play probably Iowa in the Big Ten tournament, beat them, and then lose to Ohio State. Which should be fun; another season ended with a loss to conference winning OSU. This is wearing thin. And in terms of next year? Well, a weak recruiting class and the loss of all experienced big men is going to mean another dip in the Big Ten standings. John Beilein sure is lucky RichRod is around. Without him, people might be paying a bit more attention to a basketball team that's quickly headed toward the cellar. But for now, congratulations to the seniors and here's to hoping Michigan can turn this around.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The evolution of goaltending and offensive strategy

After watching USA's 5-3 victory over what was clearly a far superior Canadian team in the Olympics a few weeks ago, the one thing that really struck me--besides Martin Brodeur's atrocious goaltending--was that the Canadian team lost the same way that Mike Babcock teams always lose: dominate the stat sheet in almost all meaningful categories but get beaten in the one that counts. It stuck with me to the point that, when the US tied the gold medal game to send it into overtime, I tweeted, "USA has to win. As a Red Wings fan, I've seen too many Mike Babcock teams in overtime."

One of the key tenants of Babcock's strategy--and seemingly Red Berenson's, one of the main reasons I'm writing this here--is simply to get pucks on net. Much of the offense works from the defense, down, with players screening the front of the net and looking for rebounds. (Note that what follows is not necessarily a condemnation of this system, but a few musings on its practicality in Hockey 2010.) The problem is, while this was an adequate strategy 15 years ago, the evolution of goaltending, and more specifically, goaltending equipment may be making this system mostly obsolete--during even strength play, about more which later.

The pictures above are of Dominik Hasek circa 1992 and US Olympic darling Ryan Miller, respectively. In recent years, the NHL has made a move to try and limit the size of goalies' pads, primarily, the size of the blocker, catcher, and leg pads (specifically how wide they are, as well as how high they extend beyond the knees). Aside from being physically larger (Miller is about three or four inches taller than Hasek), you can plainly see that the padding each uses is drastically different in size.

The point of Babcock and Berenson's systems is to get pucks on net with screens set up in front of the goalie, and look for tips and rebounds. This works well when a goalie is scrambling to try and find the puck and get in front of it. Rebounds are hard to control and often, you'd see a puck just slide into the net untouched because the goalie was unable to find it at all. But with today's goalie technology and the extensive training that goes into teaching goalies the butterfly style (you rarely, if ever, see a goaltender playing anything else), goalies can now basically take up the entire net and not worry about finding the puck, setting up a virtual wall behind the screen. As you can see in the picture above, Miller's extended leg pads cover almost the entire bottom of the net, while also covering his five hole, something older pads were unable to do. What this means is that while shots might get to the net with screens in front of the goalie, there's a bare minimum of space for the puck to actually get past him. And professional and collegiate goalies are so well trained that the few rebounds they do allow, they kick to the corner. Simply put, all of the advantages this system afforded 15 years ago are mostly tossed by the wayside.

And yet, this still seems to be the most effective offensive strategy on power plays. Why? One thing you'll probably notice from Red Wings/Michigan games is the influx of block shots by the opposing team. NHL and college players know their positions and for the most part, play them crisply. This means defensive wingers will be near defensemen in the offensive zone at almost all times. And in the Babcock/Berenson systems, you tend to see a lot of defensemen shooting the puck into the shins of the opposing wingers. The few shots that do get through to the net are often cancelled out by 1-on-1 matchups in front of the net, oversized goalies, and hapless rebounds that end up getting swept out of the zone, or at least out of harms way. The point being, with goalie technology and disciplined players, long--even screened--shots from the point are becoming increasingly low quality.

This strategy, on the power play, however is completely different. For the sake of argument, we'll say that a team on the penalty kill plays what's known as a the box or diamond, essentially a zone defense in which defenders try to take away passing lanes and attack when the offense looks out of sorts of loses the puck. The first advantage is that, obviously, teams are no longer playing 5 vs. 5, meaning that not only are shots from the point less likely to be blocked, the offensive team is more likely to get favorable numbers in front of the net should a rebound or tip occur. Next, efficient passing bends and breaks the box, further opening up lanes for the offense to shoot through and creating more matchup problems for the defense. With numbers, the system's advantages are restored.

So what's the point? The point is that shots on goal is not necessarily an indicator of how well a team has played, especially in this system. Babcock and Berenson have both run into these issues in the last year or so, seeing their teams significantly outshoot their opponents but lose by one or more goals because of the quality of shots. In all honesty, with the way goaltending is trending (not only are the pads getting bigger, but the goalies themselves are getting bigger, faster, and stronger), I'm not sure that this style of play is a sustainable winning offense in the future.