Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thoughts on Michigan/MSU hockey

Of the many mistakes I've made over the last two years, not least among them is failing to go to a game at Yost. So I finally got a chance to see the underachieving Wolverines last night on the Big Ten Network take on Michigan State. I didn't see the finish because I was too disheartened to continue watching, but the following doesn't really have too much to do with that.

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.

So the break-in was bad. Another problem that comes with this is that when Michigan did dump and chase, it created a lot of odd-man rushes coming back against Hogan. When Michigan dumped the puck, the wingers standing at the blue line would break in after the puck fruitlessly. The center, who had dumped the puck and nearside winger would crash on the puck and the weakside winger would attack the net. But since MSU's defensemen could get to the puck without much pressure, they could easily start their breakout, which often meant a 3-on-2 or worse. There was very little neutral zone regrouping (neutral zone swing, left wing lock, neutral zone trap, etc.) and as such, Michigan spent most of the game either trying stretch passes to immobile wingers or giving the puck to the center to rush up the ice by himself into the teeth of the defense, only to turn it over and get trapped deep in the MSU zone.

There was a mitigating factor, though. Either everyone on the Michigan team has stone hands (possible) or the ice last night was really soft. The puck looked like a skipping stone. And trying those long stretch passes with a rolling puck is dangerous and largely ineffective. The game tonight is at Joe Louis and you can expect the puck to sit down a little more as the ice is known to be essentially pavement. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Peedi-less basketball team

I missed Obama's State of the Union address last night because I spent most of that time doing a podcast with friend and former Daily coworker Andrew Kahn who writes The Sports Journalists. The podcast should be up sometime in the near-ish future. But that's not the point. What is, is that we spent the time talking about Michigan basketball and I finally had to confront the idea of this Michigan basketball team without DeShawn Sims next year. The outlook is bleak.

Per UMHoops' scholarship breakdown--and assuming the current commits hold--Michigan has one open scholarship spot next year with basically two targets left: 6'5" wing Trey Zeigler and 6'9" power forward Jon Horford. Best case scenario, Michigan picks up Zeigler and more or less replaces the athleticism of Manny Harris, whose departure is imminent. But with the loss of Sims and senior Zach Gibson, Michigan is left with the following "big" men:
  • Ben Cronin (broken and from the sounds of it, might never play basketball again)
  • 6'8" Jordan Morgan
  • 6'10" Blake McLimans
  • 6'8" true freshman Evan Smotrycz
Assuming we don't see Cronin again, the team gains minimal size--McLimans' two inches--and loses it's most talented player, replacing him with a true freshmen and two (likely) redshirt freshman as the crux of the offense. Kill. Me. Now. Whether or not Harris decides to stick around for his senior year, Michigan is going to take a serious step back from this year's production and performance.

Simply put, three-point shooting teams don't function without either a) a functioning and threatening low-post presence or b) a Steve Nash-like point guard that can slash and dish. It's easiest for me to use NBA comparisons, so allow me to do so. If you look at the Orlando Magic, they're essentially a three-point shooting team. What happens to them, though, if they replace Dwight Howard with a mobile, albeit undersized, power forward? Or, say, Ben Wallace? Howard is the focus of that offense even though they're most effective from the three-point line (when they're winning anyway). The point being, three-point shooting teams need the pivot point of their offense to be in the lane. This opens up three pointers and good looks for your perimeter shooters. Without that pivot point, you turn into an amorphous blob with no apparent identity besides contested threes (see: Michigan 2009-2010, pre-Big Ten season).

Beilein says the team runs best when Sims is performing well. And this is exactly why: It has to run through Sims to be an effective team. With the loss of Sims, though, Michigan is going into uncharted waters. With similarly undersized big men, Michigan is apparently lacking the kind of post presence that can make their scheme truly effective. And worse still, the players that are stepping in for Sims are untested and young. Try to imagine what this team would look like right now if Sims were a freshman. Ick.

Now, the other option, and one that I think is probably more likely, is the emergence of Darrius Morris. I really like Morris' game. He's quick and smart with the ball and is clearly second to Harris as the best slasher on the team. Next year, when Morris gets a little more confidence and playing time, I think we see him become arguably the most effective and important player on the team. And he's going to have to, what with the harrowing lack of depth in Michigan's frontcourt. But if Morris doesn't develop or I'm terribly wrong about his game, Michigan is going to be in a significant amount of trouble. Either way, expect regression next year. And what will look like a seriously undercoached squad, whether or not they actually are.

[/Depressing rant on future sanity and enjoyment]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I just want to win something

Why get blown out when you can lose a heartbreaker?

In reality, Michigan had absolutely no right to win that game. They were out-rebounded by 17. Shot an anemic eFG% of 38.8% and had the good fortune of Michigan State's sloppiest game handling the ball all season, winning the turnover battle 18 to just 4 for Michigan; probably half of those turnovers were directly because of Michigan's defense, though, so we can't quite say it was all luck. Regardless, Michigan looked bad last night, and in most other circumstances, probably would've lost by double digits.

Instead, they lost because the refs swallowed their whistle and didn't call a blatant foul on the final play, an alley oop to Sims with 1.5 seconds left in the game.

I don't know what else to say, frankly. Manny Harris looked good, but you have to score more than 16 points on 13 shots. That's Rodney Stuckey numbers. You can't have that. But otherwise, he was collected and played within himself. The best thing he did, actually, was that when he drove into the lane and people converged, he pulled the ball out instead of looking for a foul which he invariably wouldn't get. One complaint, and maybe this is because I watch too much NBA basketball and want everyone to be Steve Nash, but on that two-man game he runs with Sims, when Sims rolls to the basket and both defenders are facing Harris, he has to make that pass between them. If he does that, Michigan gets 5 more open dunks a game. But these are small complaints and probably unrealistic. Probably Manny's best game all year.

Sims was great again. He airballed a three pointer that would've sealed it, but he was open and was shooting well. Plus, if I can recall, the shot clock was running down and he had two of his teammates on either side of him, which is to say, no cutters or anyone to pass to. Other than that, he looked strong on defense and has established a great baseline jumper. Sims is officially the most talented player on this roster.

The other guys were bad. Not much else to say there. Sans Sims, the team was 4-24 from three point range and the starters (remember, Manny didn't start here) scored a grand total of 17 points on 24 shots. Of the team's four turnovers, three of them came from Douglass who had his second straight terrible game, and one came from Novak. (Sidenote about Novak: The announcers kept saying what a great shooter he is, but that his shots just aren't falling this year. He shot 34% from three-point range last year and is shooting 28% this year. What about these numbers says "Good Three-Point Shooter" to you? Just because that's the only thing he does on offense, doesn't mean he's good at it.)

So what now? I don't know. If this were MGoBlog, there would be the picture of an otter. But it's not, so you just get more of my babbling.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Michigan State: now with 80% more fierce

But seriously though, Michigan is going to lose by a million points tonight.

So Michigan takes on in-state rival Michigan State in Crisler Arena. Want any chance of the NCAA looking your way this year? You're going to need to sweep the season series against the #5 team in the country. This is not going to happen. To wit, MSU is the only unbeaten in conference play, gritting out some late wins against seriously inferior opponents and blowing out everyone else they've played; they're very good. (Well, MSU is Big Ten good, which is to say they're the Ohio State of college basketball: Able to clean house in the Big Ten but haven't been competitive with the national big dogs in quite a few years.)

Michigan gets back Manny Harris and at least one or two people think he's going to be awesome. Per DeShawn Sims: "Manny will come out and probably play one of his best games. He’ll come out and play exceptional tomorrow, I think.” Well, that would be nice, and Michigan definitely needs it. To have any shot in this game, Harris is going to have to play like he did last year and Sims is going to have to continue his unquestioned brilliance on both ends of the floor. Also needed will be big games from Zach Novak, who's coming off arguably his best shooting performance of the season, and Stu Douglass, who's coming off his worst.

The thing that concerns me most about this game, however, is MSU's fast break. Michigan's defense has been almost non-existent in transition this year, and MSU likes to push the ball as much as they can. If Michigan can't slow down the MSU fast break (and they can't), this is going to get ugly quickly. Worse still, when MSU sets up in the half court, they rebound better than just about everyone on the planet, are methodical, and can score from the inside and outside. You'll probably see Beilein go to a zone early in the game to try and pull even in rebounds. I shudder with terrified anticipation.

Michigan wins in the same way that they'll always win. By playing well: shooting well from outside, holding onto the ball, not giving up too many offensive rebounds, playing tight defense, and most importantly of late, finishing games. Michigan's been able to put it all together for a grand total of one game this season (UConn) and seeing them do it again against an in-state and conference rival is unlikely. But if MSU is off their game or Michigan can weather the various inevitable runs MSU will have, they might have a chance to win it at the end. Probably not, though: Michigan State 76, Michigan 62.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Living in a Manny-less world

This blog could nary be afforded a more perfect litmus test for its constant refrain of "Manny. Meh." than the situation that occurred over the weekend wherein he was suspended for "unsportsmanlike conduct" in practice (about which, more later) and missed the entire game against a good-to-great opponent. The results? Mixed.

Michigan lost to #15 Purdue by 10 points in a game that probably wasn't quite as close as the final score would indicate. Anthony Wright started in place of the suspended Harris and did about as well as you'd expect Anthony Wright to do, which was not great. The guards turned the ball over constantly and Purdue was simply too much for Michigan to handle.

The defense of Michigan was absolutely atrocious, the worst it's looked all season. Now, that feeling can be tempered a bit, because they were playing a really really good team in a difficult environment, but that can't excuse all of it. Purdue got anything they wanted on just about every possession. Michigan had no defensive answer for anything Purdue was doing and they looked terribly outmatched the entire game. Worse still, Beilein decided to go back to the 2-3 zone, which, well, it turned out about exactly how it has the rest of the season: forcing no turnovers, slow rotations, a vacated paint, etc. It did very little to stop the hot shooting of Purdue and generally made Michigan look lost and inept of defense (Purdue shot 50% from the field!!!).

But what of the offense, my main contention in the Manny saga? Well, for starters, the team had their best three-point shooting game of the season, shooting 7-17 from beyond the arc (by my spot checking, the only 40%+ shooting game all season). Now obviously, this isn't an indictment of Manny, but I think it does speak to the fact that the ball moves better when he's off the floor--small sample size (one game) noted, but i think it still holds some merit, especially playing in a tough environment. But then again, there was nothing going toward the basket that wasn't Sims-driven. (Sims had another amazing day and, as it should be clear to everyone now, is far and away the most talented player on the Michigan roster.) The turnovers were once again symptomatic of the team's lack of depth and inexperienced guards. And rebounding, despite the loss of Harris' gaudy rebounding numbers, did not really fall off in any unexpected way: Michigan was only out-rebounded by 6, a number you'd probably expect to see whether or not Harris was in the game.

The one player that suffered the most from the loss of Manny was Stu Douglass. He had an off night all around: couldn't shoot, couldn't hold onto the ball, couldn't defend. On the offensive side of the ball, Douglass is too slow to create his own shot and relies pretty heavily on Harris' kickouts for his good looks. For most of the game, Douglass couldn't get any open looks because he doesn't come off of screens fast enough, nor can he create off the dribble for himself.

The Suspension
Beilein is going to have a press conference in about 20 minutes and will likely answer all of the speculation I'm about to throw into the Internet, but man, this sounds like an open insubordination/"I'm the star" kind of suspension to me. From the sound of it, he did something that attacked the team, rather than punching someone or personally attacking one player/coach.

This is another reason I've been kind of down on Harris this year: He just doesn't look like he cares. He seems to be biding his time before he declares for the NBA (which will be at the end of this year). But with his performance this year, and this suspension now on the national radar, dude is seriously hurting his NBA stock. We'll see what happens at 2 pm today, but this is all pretty discouraging.

Friday, January 22, 2010

All of America is covered in rain

It's Friday. We're 12 days away from National Signing Day. And none of the major Michigan men's athletic teams have lost in two days. Dance music, go.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ready for that 2010-2011 season?

Two plays from last night's game stick out to me as definitive backbreakers. Both of them came at the hands of the season's goats, at least according to this blog.

The first play came late in the game when Michigan still had a four-point lead. The team had been playing solid defense all game and was holding Wisconsin to a painfully low shooting percentage. They had played primarily man-to-man and did an exceptional job. And once in a while, they threw the 1-3-1 in, just to throw off Wisconsin. Then, out of a timeout, Michigan went to a 2-3 zone. Wisconsin ran a wing player into the top of the key, DeShawn Sims came up to guard him and cut off the entry pass, and Wisconsin slipped a player in the back door for an easy layup--almost certainly the easiest bucket of the entire game, either way--with Michigan's only paint defender drawn up to the free throw line. This is exactly what killed Michigan against Indiana. And worse still, there was absolutely no reason to go to the 2-3 here with Michigan's defense holding strong nearly the entire game. If you are going to go to the zone, make it the one that the team can run. Wisconsin would tie the game on the next possession and never look back.

The second play came at the hands of Manny Harris. With the shot clock winding down and the game tied late, Harris had the ball in his hands. Everyone watching, including the Wisconsin defenders, knew what he was going to do. He started to drive with about 4 seconds left on the shot clock and Wisconsin clogged the lane. Harris tried pivoting back before realizing he'd wasted a bunch of time, twisted, and chucked up an airy airball. The worst part? He had Douglass  (maybe Novak, but it was one of the two) rotating to the top of the key completely unguarded and available for an open catch and shoot look that would've still beaten the shot clock by about a second.

I will let those moments and the general flow of the play speak for itself--although UMHoops basically summarizes how I feel. Everyone that reads this blog knows my feelings toward Harris and Beilein lately. There's no need in belaboring the point. That said, boy did that game go down differently than I had imagined. Good shooting from Wisconsin? Nope. Dominated on the glass? Not really. Sims vs. bigger opponent? Whoa.

Again I say: DeShawn Sims may be playing himself into a first-round draft pick. At the beginning of the year, I thought the guy was a lock to go undrafted or maybe late second round. But seeing how smooth his jump shot has gotten and how much better he is on the boards has completely changed that opinion. Sims has been an animal in Big Ten play and will almost certainly jump into the Big Ten Player of the Year conversation shortly. Last night he went 9-14 from the floor (1-2 from three-point range) and 4-6 from the free throw line with 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals, and 1 assist. If it weren't for Sims, Michigan would've scored about 12 points because....

Everyone else is terrible. Harris 4-14 (11 points), Novak 0-6 (0 points), Douglass 2-8 (6 points), LLP 2-5 (5 points). Just flat can't shoot. And to add to that, Michigan had a grand total of one point off the bench, and that came from the split pair of three throws that Darius Morris hit early in the game. Otherwise, the bench produced 4 rebounds, three turnovers, and three fouls. That's it. Not even a single shot attempt from the bench. This is not a good basketball team.

Is it 2011 yet?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wisconsin preview

I've been particularly high on the Wisconsin hoops team this year and think that they've got a good chance to challenge MSU for the Big Ten crown this year. The Wisconsin basketball team is the Wisconsin football team of college basketball: huge, strong, precise, and overwhelming. Probably moreso than any team in the conference, Wisconsin presents a distinct matchup problem for just about every Michigan player. But so did UConn, and we know how that turned out.

Working in Michigan's favor is the recent loss of 6'10" forward Jon Leuer. Much like when Michigan was fortunate enough to play Ohio State without Evan Turner, this is a big break for the Wolverines as it has been forcing Wisconsin to change up their lineup a bit. UMHoops talked to Hoops Marinara--a Wisconsin hoops blog--about the change (emphasis mine):

In the absence of Leuer, Wisconsin has committed to small ball. Bo Ryan is starting sophomore Jordan Taylor in a three-guard approach right now. The Badgers used this look a lot before, but now Taylor is being asked to take on about 10 of Leuer’s 28 mpg right off the top. Bo has also indicated his rotation will be more situational without Leuer, depending on the quickness and size of the opponent. Leuer will be replaced by committee.

This is basically best-case scenario for Michigan--not that a player getting injured is a good thing, but you play the hand you're dealt. If Wisconsin goes to a smaller lineup, Michigan will be able to keep pace with their size and athleticism, but that's not to say it gives Micigan any sort of tangible advantage: Wisconsin takes about 3-4 less three-pointers a game than Michigan, but shoots at a markedly higher percentage (34.9% versus Michigan's 29.5%). But still, limiting Wisconsin's size advantage will be key because, if we've learned anything from watching DeShawn Sims recently, it's that he struggles mightily against taller opponents.

So that's the good news. The bad news? The Badgers are 130-10 at home under Bo Ryan and are really, really good. Their only conference losses this year are road games against MSU and OSU, and they have wins over Purdue, Duke, Marquette, Maryland, and Ohio State. Knowing that Michigan is limited in size and has little or no depth, I wouldn't be surprised to see Wisconsin return to a bigger lineup in this game, rather than go to the three-guard set described above. This will be a game that Zach Gibson is likely to get a lot of playing time, if not start.

Wisconsin is an exacting, precise, lethal team that I thoroughly expect to handle Michigan, that is unless they can shoot lights out from beyond the arc, something that they've proven unable to do with any consistency throughout the season. Michigan is going to need to create turnovers (tough to do against Wisconsin) and stay within a reasonable distance in the rebounding game, allowing a minimum of easy putbacks. Michigan is going to get all they can handle tonight and a close loss would be totally acceptable (if a bit heartbreaking). A win, though, would start to make NCAA Tournament hopes less of a fantastical alternate reality and more of a reasonable wish granted from the genie I found hiding in my shampoo bottle.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Slow day

I don't really have anything of note to talk about today aside from a RichRod interview in the Orlando Sentinel in which he said this of the defense's struggles:

We’ve struggled. I was more disappointed the first year because we had a few more guys back defensively but when I look back at it, we had lost the 4 top tacklers so … this past year we knew it was going to be a little bit rough at times because there were a lot of new kids playing. I think we’ve got to make a few adjustments here and there. Our numbers were so far down defensively. That’s why we had so many walk-ons playing. That shouldn’t happen. We shouldn’t have to do that. If we do our job as coaches we won’t have to do that in the future.

I can read this as nothing other than a sign of the immenent benching of ones Jordan Kovacs and Kevin Leach. They had their moderately high and low points this season, but Rodriguez's acknowledegement of this ranks up there with my reaction to when Nick Sheridan immediately dropped out of the quarterbacking discussion after the season opener: Thank God.

Rodriguez has been quoted constantly about how much he likes having a strong walk on program, and it has seemed in these two years, that he's preferred playing walk ons over other--sometimes highly rated--recruits. Quotes like this make me happy.

But that's all I've got today. Wisconsin preview tomorrow--summary: it's gonna be ugly. But until then, enjoy this little nugget that comes by way of Passion of the Weiss:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Manufacturing wins

Everything now-a-days has a story line. A statement win and the students rush the court. A statement win against an 11-6 Big East squad. Michigan is 10-7 and considered a massive disappointment.

When I saw students rushing onto the floor, I sat in my apartment awkwardly laughing and muttering to myself, "Why? No, don't. For what?" It's grandiosity was ridiculous. An 11-6 Big East squad. At what point do the expectations of this basketball team, a team that finally snapped its NCAA Tournament drought and was ranked in the Top 20 preseason, at what point do our expectations become higher than this? A statement win? No. A good win? You bet your ass.

That looked like an entirely different basketball team, didn't it? They looked prepared for UConn's size and fast breaks. It looked prepared to run its offense. It looked prepared to win. I've been railing against Beilein for a while now, and I think with good reason. At times this season, Michigan has looked lost on both sides of the court. Regardless of the team's shooting troubles, Beilein hadn't done much to inspire confidence this season. But this game looked completely different. He was switching up defensive schemes, keeping UConn off balance. And more importantly, for the first time this season, Michigan looked prepared.

But was this really a different team or just Beilein finally doing what he's been praised for and what I've been lamenting the loss of: manufacturing wins. The team shot an awful 37.3% from the floor and only 32.1% from three point--they shot only 13-31 from inside the arc, almost a whole 15% worse than they have on the year. On the game, the team shot 9-28 from three-point range, literally one make away from their season average. They were out rebounded, albeit not by the margins you'd think against a team with the size and athleticism of UConn. And they turned the ball over 13 times, only two less than the noted suckfest against Indiana. The point being, the Michigan team you saw today was, statistically, the exact same team you've seen and considered massively disappointing this season.

So what was the difference? In a word, Beilein. As I said, they looked ready for that game, they were inspired and effective. They manufactured that win yesterday, and it was a hell of a victory.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Turnovers with a side of turnovers

Dear Lord, that was ugly. There was a time when Michigan was good at holding onto the ball. That time is not now. Last night's suckfest agaisnt Indiana featured 33 turnovers in 40 minutes of basketball--15 by Michigan and 18 by Indiana. To go along with that, Indiana shot 1-15 (!!!) from three point range and Michigan shot 4-18 from outside. The teams combined to go 43-104 (41.3%) with an eFG% of 43.75%. What a truly abysmal game to watch. And yet somehow, Michigan walked away with a 24-point win and scored 69 points. Sheesh.

OK, so that's out of the way. What's the good news? None, really. Matt Vogrich turned in some good minutes and went 1-2 from three point range. Unfortunately, when he wasn't doing that, he was clogging up the weakside of the offense and looking mostly lost. I'm glad he got minutes in this game, but he's clearly not ready for the prime time yet. Also, Anthony Wright played eight minutes and only did one bad thing. Improvement!

The rest of the game is your common refrain: Only Harris and Sims can score (and for much of the game, only Sims could score), the team can't shoot from outside, no depth, etc. etc. etc. Michigan did manage to get a lot of calls in the first half and found themselves cashing in from the charity stripe to the tune of double-digit points. That was encouraging. At least the team's free throw shooting looks to be back on track after the terrible start.

And fortunately, I didn't have to break anything yesterday. 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.

One thing that did happen yesterday that impressed me, however, was Beilein sitting Manny Harris. I've said it before and will no doubt say it again this season: This Michigan offense runs a lot better without Manny Harris. That's not to say they're a better team without him (they aren't), but the offense looks smoother, faster, and more cohesive with Harris on the bench. When Harris came back into the game, he looked like a different player and he started hitting shots. The offense was still a little too Manny-centric for my taste, but you can't argue with the production.

And finally: Holy crap, DeShawn Sims might've played his way into a first-round draft pick in the last three weeks. His shot has never looked smoother. He's stronger when getting to the bucket. His touch is unbelieveable. Passing and shot blocking are both significantly better than last year. I'm sold: Sims is going to be a legitimate NBA small forward once he can add a little bulk--it's a shame he's playing so terribly out of position on this team, but he's making the most of it and looks fantastic.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Indiana preview thingy

This isn't going to be a proper preview, really, as we just played Indiana two weeks ago and should all remember that debacle still. Michigan got into foul trouble early and couldn't stop Indiana from shooting 47% from the field in the Big Ten opener. After the game I said this,

Still, it was a game Michigan needed to win (as most of them are from here on out) and they blew it by way of early foul trouble in the second half--if I can recall correctly, they were in the penalty with about 15 minutes left in the half, ugh--and Beilein's insistence on using the 2-3 zone when it was being absolutely torched to the tune of 47% shooting on the night.....

More to the point, though, the 2-3 more or less emphasized all of Michigan's defensive troubles without maximizing anything. Time and again, Sims was pulled into the high post to cover a man in the lane, leaving rebounds and drives open, while the guards seemed too slow to face up and contest any shots. What's worse, they couldn't force turnovers out of the 2-3 and looked like they were scrambling around the court on most possessions. It was not encouraging.

This began my now extensive disappointment with Beilein this season. Mark my words, if I see Michigan use the 2-3 zone in this game, I'm going to break something nice.

So what does Michigan need to do to win this game? Be Michigan, really. I think Indiana is a pretty underrated Big Ten squad and is poised to go on a string of really good wins. But they're not a team Michigan should be losing home games to. Look for Harris and Sims to continue their roles as Only Scorers on the Team and just pray that someone else on the team can pick up the slack.

More importantly, this game is the last one before Michigan takes on UConn, the last chance they'll have at a signature out-of-conference win. Playing on their home floor and getting into rhythm will be important if Michigan will have any chance at beating UConn. Unfortunately, according to the statistics, the team might already be in rhythm. That would not bode well for this team going forward, but it seems exceedingly reasonable. I don't know what to expect from this team anymore. Let us watch and pray.

UMHoops has a more thorough preview.

Shooting and statistical significance

Sparked by a conversation I had on UMHoops yesterday, I sought out to figure out if the poor three-point shooting from Michigan this year is a regular statistical fluctuation or an accurate reflection of a team that's objectively worse than they were last year. My point of view is that the difference in the 33.4% shooting last year and this year's 29.7% is not really that out of the blue, and in fact, a fairly reasonable output given the data we have. And a random statistical significance calculator I found online seems to agree with me.

(DISCLAIMER: I did particularly poorly in Stats at Michigan and my logic herein might be flawed or flat-out wrong. I don't think it is and had someone much more knowledgeable on the topic look it over. A few times. I am also trusting that this calculator is doing the math correctly. My numbers come from the ESPN Michigan team page, so if they don't quite match the numbers you've seen elsewhere, this is where I'm getting them. But if my logic is correct here and this is a reputable calculator, then, well, read...)

I went into this experiment assuming that the difference in shooting percentage between the 2008-2009 Michigan hoops team and the 2009-2010 team--33.4% to 29.7%--was not statistically significant. Simplistically, this means that given the data, the 29.7% performance this year is a reasonable and unexceptional fluctuation in the team's output from last year. Furthermore, this would go to show that Michigan may just be the recipient of bad luck and experiencing a regular deviation from their performance last year, rather than being outwardly worse, as some suggest.

Now, someone who is really good with these sorts of things would be able to show you the formulas and explain what everything means. I can give you this:

So this nifty little program tells me I was right and the difference between these two shooting percentages is not statistically significant. But what does that mean exactly?

Well, like I said above, it means that we can likely say--albeit not definitively--that the 29.7% three-point shooting performance the team has shown this year is within the team's reasonable capabilities. That is, we can say that the performance this year is quite likely representative of the team's skill and performance given their outcomes last year. Again, this is not an exact process and is something to keep an eye on going forward, but we can't say definitively we're worse yet.

So my post At what point do we say: They just can't shoot, is mostly right. Though the performance this year may not indicative of the team's talent, it's difficult to say yet whether or not they're objectively worse this year than they were last year, at least for the time being.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Odds and ends

I was going to write a bit about the Kiffin situation and how I don't think it's nearly as abysmal move as a lot of the media does. But then Dr. Saturday basically said everything I wanted to say way more succinctly and intelligently than I'm capable of. So I suggest reading this.

I think what Kiffin did to Tennessee is kind of despicable, but I get it, is all. I almost feel bad for Tennessee. Almost.

Otherwise, I don't have too much new to talk about. Read my statistical analysis of the basketball season in comparison to last year's team. Then make sure to go to UMHoops where Dylan put up a depressing chart outlining Michigan's three-point shooting troubles this season. In the comments section, I object to a few of the points he brings up, namely that this shooting is the cause for our losses. Says I,

I think saying, “make more shots and you’ll win more” is simplistic, especially when you have a team that, even last year, didn’t prove to be very good shooters. You can say that about just about any team in any sport: score more points and you’ll win more. But (and I forget how to find this), I’d be interested in knowing the statistical significance of Michigan’s three-point shooting, whether or not this is a random case or this output is pretty reflective of the team’s relative skill level.

So sure, if Michigan hits more shots, they win more. My point is this, though: the 4% decrease in Michigan’s 3-point shooting does not seem like a statistical anomaly to me, and the fact that there is not a linear correlation between the above graph and wins and losses means that we need to look elsewhere.

Is it possible that last year’s record in relation to the shooting percentage was an anomaly? That–and I think we can all agree that Michigan was overrated coming into this year–they are not necessarily struggling, but rather playing exactly to their skill level and happened to get lucky last year? Or is it something else?

And by the way, anyone that's able to or knows how to compute the statistical significance (whether or not there is any) between last year's three-point percentage and this year's and report back to me would be greatly appreciated. In any case, check out Dylan's post and then read the comments.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where did it all go?

I've been trying to figure out what's wrong with Michigan hoops this year. It's been tough. Ad nauseum, I've talked about Manny, and even lately, I've gotten on Beilein who, IMO, has been mostly absent in games this year. But I decided to look a little deeper into just the numbers, and where the team might be missing whatever it had last year.

The first thing that struck me when I looked at the sheer numbers is just how similar (or better) this season is to last. The assist/TO ratio of 1.5/1 bests lasts year 1.3/1, even with the loss of sure-handed Kelvin Grady and the two senior guards. Turnovers per game were down, too, 10.7 last year to 11.5 this year. Blocks per game were up slightly and personal fouls were down slightly. The shooting percentage is even higher this year than it was last year. But that doesn't really paint an accurate picture.

Let's start with points for and against. This year, Michigan is averaging 69.6 points for and 63.6 points against. In the 2008-2009 season, the team averaged 66.8 points for and 63.2 points against. By this measure, Michigan is scoring at a slightly higher clip than they were last year and allowing less than a half-point more against opponents. These numbers, as it stands right now, might be a bit misleading, though. Michigan has only played 15 games this year, and a number of them have been of the cupcake variety. They played the same kinds of games last year too, but in last season's numbers, those cupcake games are significantly more balanced by the rest of Michigan's schedule. As such, we can probably assume that both Michigan's points for will drop and points against will rise marginally, at least theoretically. But to that end, they're still remarkably similar to last year's numbers.

Next up: shooting percentage. Much has been made this year of Michigan's struggles from beyond the three-point arc. Last year, the team shot a pedestrian 33.4% from the outside. At this point of the season, they've gotten their three-point percentage up to 29.7%, which is still a marked decline, but not necessarily one that should result in a four game difference in the win column. More interesting, however, is that Michigan's overall shooting percentage is actually up this year: 43.4% this year to 42.5% last year. A small difference, sure, but given the struggles from beyond the arc, this means that Michigan is making their two-pointers at a significantly higher clip or taking noticeably less three pointers. And through the wizardry of math, we find that Michigan made 50.8% of it's two-point shots last year, compared to 54.0% of their two-point shots this year. As we've seen above, this actually comes out to a 2.8 PPG differential in favor of the 2010 season (given that Michigan is taking more shots per game--almost four--and less 3s per game).

So again, it doesn't look like shooting is what's killing Michigan. One of the only statistical categories that Michigan 2010 is trailing Michigan 2009 is points per shot: 1.20 to 1.23 respectively. This stat, while importantly, seems to be highly variable and may not, when you get down to differences like .03, have much of an impact on wins and losses. For example, the 2006-2007, 20-11 Michigan team scored 1.26 PPS, the same .03 difference the 2010 team has from the 2009 team. But in the case of 2007 vs. 2009, the win/loss difference is only one game, as opposed to the four game difference the 2010 Michigan is currently experiencing.

The point being, by most statistical measures, 2010 Michigan is at or exceeding 2009 Michigan. And on the defensive side of the ball, the trend continues. As noted above, blocks are up this year, and so too are steals. After some digging through the NCAA web site, I even uncovered that Michigan's defensive field goal percentage is almost identical to last year: 43.6% this year compared to 43.5% last year.

So after looking through all of this, I can't really come to a conclusion. One of a few different things has happened: Michigan has a few games that stand as drastic statistical outliers and their numbers are inflated this year, they've been wholly unlucky, or they're failing to manufacture wins. The first of these, we'll have to wait and see. If Michigan's season averages dip significantly as they traverse the Big Ten schedule, we can assume that they're just not as good a team. In terms of luck, the team has only had two games that, had they gotten one or two more rolls, would have tipped their way (2 point loss to Alabama and the 4 point loss to Utah).

And at this point, I think you have to turn to the fact that Michigan hasn't manufactured any wins, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of Beilein. His in-game presence has been lacking and the team hasn't really looked prepared or able to adapt. And at some point, some of that blame needs to go to Beilein. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to run him out of town. He's a great coach. But he's going to need to start proving it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

All our coaching are belong to Northwestern

It is difficult to characterize Michigan's massive second-half flop last night as anything other than an epic failure in coaching. For much of this season, the oft-named "best coach in college basketball", John Beilein, has looked absent, unable to maintain the success of last year and stop the bleeding in 2010. Beilein isn't missing three pointers. He isn't being out-rebounded by nearly every team Michigan's played. He does, however, seem completely lost when it comes to fixing the team's myriad issues, attacking opposing defenses, fixing his own, or manufacturing wins in the way he had become famous for during his successful and over-achieving NCAA Tournament career. I am not encouraged by his recent contract extension.

On offense, Michigan turned the ball over 17 times, most of them coming in the second half when Northwestern tweaked their 1-3-1 and began trapping Michigan's inexperienced guards high and early. How does Michigan and Beilein not have an answer for this? Isn't this the base defense in Beilein's system? The fact that Michigan kept doing the same thing over and over and over again speaks to the stagnancy of the offense and Beilein's inability to twist and rework it--not that he should, as some suggest, move away from the three pointer or overhaul his system, but in-game adjustments would be nice.

Turnovers aside, the team still can't shoot three pointers at a high clip (bucketing just over 30% of their shots from the outside against Northwestern) and generally had trouble creating anything other than giving Sims the ball on the block. This was so clearly the focus of the game--Beilein obviously practiced getting Sims the ball at all times--that the team passed up open looks or better passes to try and thread the needle to Sims, often resulting in a turnover.

Worse, though, was Michigan on the defensive side of the ball. In the first 15 minutes of the first half, man-to-man coverage was working well. But then Drew Crawford took over and started to light the team up from outside. Then the second half started and Michigan continued to play man-to-man. And continued. And continued. And Northwestern finally established a large enough lead that they never surrendered. By my count, Michigan played the 1-3-1 zone on exactly one possession. It resulted in a turnover and a Manny Harris runout. I've been documenting Beilein's resistence to the 1-3-1 this season, and this game goes down with the Indiana flop as the two most egregious examples of Beilein failing to change his defensive schemes.

The shine of Beilein 2009 is fading. He's going to need to do something soon to inspire any kind of confidence with this team going forward. Because when your players are underachieving (or just bad) and your coach seems completely lost on the sideline. Well, you're 13-18 Tommy Amaker.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Manny Harris diatribe (cont.)

I don't care that Manny didn't have a great game last night. That's not what this is about. Anyone who's been reading this blog knows that I haven't been particularly impressed with Manny Harris this season. I tried to explain why and everything I said came off as pretty circumstantial--inflated numbers because there wasn't much help on the roster, unable to take over games, whatever that means, and inconsistency regardless of averaging nearly 20 points a game. But watching the team last night completely regress in the first half, it finally hit me what bothers me so much about Harris' game.

A while ago, I said this of Harris,

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.

That was painfully apparent last night in the first half, and thinking back to the rest of the season, this is exactly the problem. On most offensive possessions, Harris stands on the shoulder of the three point line. He does half-hearted back cuts and tries to pop back out to get the ball in his hands. And the guards, inexperienced and not knowing what else to do, wait for him. They stand and stand and stand and wait until they can pass Harris the ball, at which point, there's about 10 seconds left on the shot clock, and Harris has the ball at a standstill 25 feet from the basket. And worse, Harris isn't Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony. He simply can't be relied to make a play on every possession.

There was a period of a few minutes in the first half against Penn State that Michigan pulled Harris, mostly because Taylor Battle was taking a breather (they both returned at the same time). The lineup was Sims/Novak/Douglass/Vogrich/LLP(?). The few possessions they had together ended poorly. Vogrich jacking up an airball. A few missed shots. But their play together looked great. There was movement by all five players on the floor. Lots of screens and cuts. And they actually produced some open shots that, were it not the first half and, well you know,  probably would've gone down.

When Harris is on the floor, the team plays a different system, and it unfortunately starts and ends with Manny Harris. The creed that this team "lives and dies by DeShawn Sims" is no joke. And there's a reason it's Sims and not Harris: Sims fits into the Beilein system in a way that Harris simply doesn't. When Sims is working on the block, the three point shooters can get open and produce good looks. When the game runs through Harris, the point of attack begins at the three-point line and the shooters have really no options besides swinging the ball around the perimeter.

This is, again, not supposed to be a condemnation of Manny Harris who is a great player and likely an NBA Draft-level talent. But in the system that Michigan runs, he just doesn't fit.

Making basketball out of nothing

Sometime late in the first half yesterday, I Tweeted, "Michigan is a bad basketball team. No other way to say it anymore". They were 0-10 or 0-473 from beyond the arc, had no defense, turned the ball over constantly. It was a bad team. And then the second half happened.

When I got home from work yesterday, I grabbed the mail but didn't open it immediately. It looked like just some end of the year stuff and random paperwork. I had a letter from the city I live in. Opened it. "DELINQUENT FILING NOTICE". Saywhatnow? Turns out that for 2008 (or the 6 months that I lived in Ohio in 2008), I failed to pay any city income taxes (which I didn't know I had to pay, my employer didn't inform me of, and wasn't taking regularly out of my check), and owed a bunch of money to the city, likely with interest and penalties, by February 4th lest I get subpoenaed. I spent much of the night on the phone with my dad trying to dig through city websites and paperwork, figuring out what I needed to turn all of this in and not get arrested. Laval Lucas-Perry was hitting three pointers. 

Many stories will be told about the game last night, and it may even be chalked up to the turning point in Michigan's season. I saw a bad basketball team and, unfortunately, not much more than one of the brighter moments in Michigan athletics of the recent, dreary history. This is a bad basketball team. 

Regardless, last night's game was nothing short of an epic comeback. I didn't see enough of the game in depth to say how they did it aside from hitting three pointers and, judging by the box score, shutting down Taylor Battle (9 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 turnovers). Per Penn State's season performance, there wasn't much help scoring elsewhere, and without Battle, who didn't score in the second half, the team floundered. Laval Lucas-Perry hit three pointers and DeShawn Sims continued to pound the ball down low. Other than that, the offensive output from Michigan was basically par for the course this year. 

This was a big win for Michigan and one that technically keeps their season alive. But it wasn't particularly inspiring. It doesn't feel like a turning point. This team has too many glaring problems and inconsistencies to expect anything more than a graceful NIT exit. I hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Penn State Preview

Michigan takes on a struggling Penn State tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center in what is a must-win for Michigan should they have any fantasies about making it to the postseason. Penn State is coming off back-to-back conference losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin, more or less holding serve with the former but getting blow out by the latter. Michigan, meanwhile, is coming off a big win against an Evan Turner-less Ohio State. (Can we all agree now how happy we are that Michigan played OSU the game before Turner came back? Though he was mostly unimpressive in his return, his presence might've been enough to beat Michigan and basically bounce them from the postseason altogether. The rematch in Columbus this year is going to be ugly.)

Penn State's top performer is speedster supergaurd Taylor Battle, who is averaging 18.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 3.6 APG, while shooting 43% from the field (34% from 3-point). So basically Manny Harris numbers on a guy that's five inches shorter and faster. If Michigan wants to win this game, they're going to have to shut Battle down. This will be done with a combination of players: Darrius Morris, LLP, and maybe even Stu Douglass for a time. As presumably the fastest of the three, I wouldn't be surprised to see Morris' minutes go up in this game as he tries to keep Battle in front of him. And while Douglass may be too slow, he's probably long enough to bother Battle's shot. I expect too, that Manny will play Battle on a number of possessions.

As for Michigan, you know the drill: No bench, can't rebound, probably can't shoot, relies on Harris and Sims--both of whom are coming off huge performances against OSU. Michigan is going to need another big game from their big two, and if Douglass and Novak are hitting shots, Michigan might be in business. Douglass looks like he may have found his stroke again, but Novak, aside from a five-shot streak of brilliance against Indiana, has looked inept. Fortunately, Penn State has the same size issues that Michigan does, so the rebounding edge will probably be a toss up. Penn State is also shooting well from 3-point on the season (34%), so being able to defend the three point arc without giving up the lane too much will be essential.

I don't really have any idea how this one will play out. These teams are pretty evenly matched this year (sad, yes). I'd like to see Beilein go back to the 1-3-1 a little more in this game (he may have against OSU, but I wasn't able to watch most of that game) and basically never use the 2-3 zone which appears to be awful for this team. If Michigan can't find an answer for Battle, and all results this season indicate they probably can't, they'll be in for a long night.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Orange Bowl defensive wizardy

Ed.: Not much is going on in the world of Michigan aside from a new Athletic Director who I have no knowledge of or opinion on. He seems fine. MGoBlog discusses.

It's no secret around these parts that I'm a somewhat irrational Georgia Tech fan. Before this blog became a Michigan blog (i.e., before anyone reading it now ever read it), I put up a post about the Miami/Georgia Tech game this year, focusing on how Miami managed to stop the vaunted GT offense. I wanted to do a similar post today about how Iowa did it, because it was absolutely brilliant. But lo, Georgia Tech fans want nothing more than to forget yesterday, Iowa fans post only videos of Ricky Stanzi not sucking, and ESPN doesn't really have the footage I need. So for now, mostly words will have to suffice with one or two images only.

What Iowa did on defense that was so brilliant was they mirrored Georgia Tech's A and H backs (those lined up at the ends of the offensive line and a step behind the offensive line) with linebackers and had them basically play man coverage--with a few interesting hitches. Since I can't find any video with both backs in the game for Georgia Tech, this pre-snap image will have to do for now.

You can see that Georgia Tech is in their typical formation with one change: Instead of having an A back at the bottom of the offensive line here, they have a slot receiver. This didn't change Iowa's defensive formation in the front seven, though, and that's the interesting part.

For basically the entire game, Iowa worked out of a 4-3 defense, with two corners and two deep safeties to help primarily in run support. Josh Nesbitt can't throw a football, so, like all teams, Iowa didn't fear one-on-one coverage with Georgia Tech's receivers. In this formation, one of Iowa's safeties has come down to cover the slot receiver. It doesn't matter, though, because that receiver is going to be used to block. But I digress. What's interesting about the Iowa defense is the way the linebackers are aligned: The middle linebacker plays where he normally would, but the two outside linebackers are shaded down toward the line of scrimmage and, when there are both the A and H backs in the game for Georgia Tech, the outside linebackers are directly over them, three yards from the line of scrimmage.

This is all well and good, but as Smart Football noted long ago, you can't just play man coverage against Georgia Tech. What Iowa did that was so great was, when the H or A back began his motion pre-snap--sweeping behind the B back (Jonathan Dwyer, lined up like a runningback) and play as the pitch man for quarterback Josh Nesbitt should he decide to pull the ball--the corresponding linebacker (who I will call, from now on, the in-motion linebacker) followed him and mirrored where he went pre-snap. This initially seems like it's kind of pointless but it's not, for a couple of reasons. The most important of which, is that the in-motion linebacker is now in perfect position to help plug up holes in the middle of the defensive line if Georgia Tech hands the ball off to Jonathan Dwyer for their typically effective dive play.

This play by the linebacker is no easy task, though. He has to look into the backfield and see whether or not Dwyer gets the ball. If he does, the middle linebacker and in-motion linebacker can crash down immediately on the dive play along with the four defensive linemen, slowing the play long enough for the safeties and other outside linebacker to get in for a gang tackle. Having the middle and in-motion linebackers being able to cover the dive play immediately creates a favorable matchup for Iowa. Georgia Tech can only block this play with five blockers while Iowa has six defenders to plug the middle of the field--this would be a good matchup for Georgia Tech in space, but in the limited room in the middle of the field, it slows the play to a halt. This also makes sure that the offensive linemen can't get to the second level to block the safties and anyone looking to help on the play.That's why Dwyer looked ineffective all day.

If Nesbitt pulls the ball and runs the option, the in-motion linebacker is already 5-10 yards further toward the play than he would be had he not motioned with the A/H back pre-snap. Along with this motion, the defensive lineman were slanting toward the run. This once again stopped Georgia Tech's offensive linemen from getting to the second level, because the weakside defensive tackle would slant hard and attack the center, the playside defensive tackle would take the playside guard, and the playside defensive end would take the playside offensive tackle (below... with lines).

This left the H back to block the playside linebacker. Usually, this play works well for Georgia Tech as the defenders are trying to get to the playside of the field to make a tackle, often leaving the middle linebacker in a position to have to try and defend the option pitch on his own. But because the in-motion linebacker was already on the playside of the field, this allowed the middle linebacker to keep contain on the pitch man, and the in-motion linebacker to play Nesbitt.

So yeah, that's what Iowa did to stop Georgia Tech's offense. And it worked really, really well. Georgia Tech was most successful when running out of the lineup they were in above (with a slot receiver), and just using their H back and occasionally Dwyer as lead blockers for Nesbitt. This way, they were able to stretch the field a little bit and get to the outside where one-on-one tackling is far more difficult against Dwyer with a head of steam.

(I know all of this would've been way better if I could actually show what was happening, but I hope this makes any sense. It does in my head. I'll keep a lookout for relevant video and bump this if I can put in pictures.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A playoff proposal

I've been thinking about the BCS a lot lately for obvious reasons, and just this morning had a conversation with a friend who was wondering whether or not Boise State's schedule next year would put them in National Championship contention (if they win out), because they'll be ranked relatively high preseason. My general feeling toward it is no, they wouldn't, based on the strength, or lack thereof, of the WAC.

He then asked what I thought should be the NC game when I roundly dismissed the possibility of BSU or TCU playing in the game legitimately this year. A rematch between Alabama and Florida (although such a rematch can never happen because OSU/Michigan was denied one in '06) or Alabama and Georgia Tech--winners of the two best conferences in college football this year.

It was at this point that the idea of a reasonable college playoff system came into my mind. I already sort of addressed this issue and came to the conclusion that,

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.

But giving the major conference champions automatic bids into an 8-team playoff seems perfect to me. Take the six major conferences' (ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10) conference winners and have two at-large births for independents and mid-majors.

What I like about this system is that it eliminates the drama that a playoff system of "the best 6 (8) teams in the country" would inevitably bring. If a 6-team playoff system were in place right now, whose to say that Ohio State or Oregon should be left out instead of TCU or BSU, based on the strength of the teams respective conferences--BSU has the edge over Oregon due to a head-to-head win, but after seeing the game last night, are you so sure that OSU couldn't beat TCU or BSU? (Simply, I'm not sold on the idea that going undefeated in the WAC > One or two losses in the SEC/Big Ten/etc.)

This would bring in a few issues, though, namely that nonconference play seems completely worthless now. But seeding in the playoff could be determined by record and strength of schedule in nonconference play. The seeding would look something like this:

What this system will also do is encourage teams to schedule strong nonconference slates without the fear of losing a/multiple game(s) and being completely forgotten in the national picture. But, that's not to say that there's not a premium on winning these games. The primary focus is on winning your conference, however, as that gets you a bid into the playoff. This may necessitate a conference championship game or it may not. Either way would be fine with me. Seeding would also dictate home-field advantage until the National Championship game, which would be played at a neutral site.

In the end, this system would eliminate any griping from the major conferences (and probably most from the mid-majors/independents as there's unlikely to be more than two teams from those conferences worthy of such an at-large bid). It would give each conference a chance to settle it on the field, and would avoid the rematches that the BCS is so clearly opposed to. It would also remove any drama from the selection process and bickering over who gets in among the major programs.

As for the rest of the bowls, I don't quite know how this would pan out. This is the biggest issue against this system. Without a national ranking system, it would be difficult to match teams appropriately, but with all of the conference tie-ins that the bowls currently have, something could easily be established. The #2s of each conference meet somehwhere, etc. The point being: It could be done with the most important issue--the playoff--set in place. And if you were to match teams by their conference rank, you wouldn't end up with terribly overmatched Big Ten teams getting blown out in bowls.

It's basically the NFL model, but instead of wildcards and first-week byes, you have at-large bids being matched up against the conference champion with, presumably, the best resume. By the end, you have a champion who has beaten three conference champions, the final being on a neutral site. Opposition may come in the form of universities complaining that teams are playing too many games or too long, but, well, deal with it. It's three more games than the current system and, in some cases, only one more than a national champion would play in a 6-team playoff scenario.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Everything I love is terrible

Michigan did a bad thing and then they did a good thing over my holiday break. The bad thing: losing to an upstart Indiana team that is not going to be as bad as everyone might think. I see them finishing somewhere around the middle of the Big Ten. Still, it was a game Michigan needed to win (as most of them are from here on out) and they blew it by way of early foul trouble in the second half--if I can recall correctly, they were in the penalty with about 15 minutes left in the half, ugh--and Beilein's insistence on using the 2-3 zone when it was being absolutely torched to the tune of 47% shooting on the night.

Why Beilein has moved away from the 1-3-1 so drastically is beyond me. It was abysmal early in the year, but ended up being wildly effective in the second half against Kansas. Since then, it's looked like Michigan's best defensive set. But for whatever reason, Beilein seems to have lost faith in it, at least temporarily. Indiana was having zero trouble with the 2-3 Michigan was running and, if my memory serves me well, shot somewhere about 50% in the half. This may or may not have actually happened (I can't find by-half stats from the game anywhere).

More to the point, though, the 2-3 more or less emphasized all of Michigan's defensive troubles without maximizing anything. Time and again, Sims was pulled into the high post to cover a man in the lane, leaving rebounds and drives open, while the guards seemed too slow to face up and contest any shots. What's worse, they couldn't force turnovers out of the 2-3 and looked like they were scrambling around the court on most possessions. It was not encouraging.

But then they did something good and beat a ranked Ohio State team that was probably going to drop from the rankings anyway after a thrashing at the hands of, IMO, the conference's best Wisconsin. Without Evan Turner, Ohio State is still good but not quite the highly ranked squad everyone had expected. It was a good win, but Michigan is going to need to win a whole lot of games in the Big Ten schedule to have any chance at all at the Tournament in March. Sims and Harris were excellent in the game. The rest of the team was mediocre at best. It's going to be a long year.

(As a brief follow-up on my Manny Harris Isn't That Good So Please Stop Treating Him Like a God post: My brother told me he didn't think my Manny vs. JR Smith comparison was very good. I understand where he's coming from, but I think their games look a little disparate because of the systems they're put in. Manny fills up the stat sheet a lot more than JR Smith does, but I think a lot of that is because Michigan lacks anyone who fills up any category in the box score, namely rebounding. I think if Zach Gibson were, um, better and played more, or if Ben Cronin was in the game and not broken and sadface on the bench, Harris' rebounding numbers would drop significantly. His numbers would then dictate Good Guard and not All-World Talent. Also, Harris' tendency to take plays off and throw up terrible shots continues to be problematic. If someone were to do an in depth UFR on basketball games, I think Harris would grade out much worse than his box score indicates. A little Obi Ezeh syndrome, only not as significant a difference in on-paper production vs. real-world contributions.)

Chad Henne broke his brain against the Steelers and couldn't see straight so he left the game. And then Pat White severely broke his brain or whatever they're calling instant unconsciousness and dangerous head injuries. This was sad. But Mike Hart got his first NFL touchdown in a noncompetitive Curtis Painter-led Colts game this weekend. His day otherwise was mostly unremarkable: 10 carries for 28 yards and a TD, and two receptions for 16 yards. Good to see that he's getting a few snaps, but when the Colts are healthy again next year, expect him to get waived or demoted to the practice squad again.

The more interesting news was something I didn't see. But judging by the mass of MGoBlog forum threads on the topic, I assumed it happened. In the intros for Sunday night's game between the Jets and Bengals, Braylon Edwards introduced himself as such: "Braylon Edwards, Lloyd Carr's University of Michigan". I've stuck by Braylon for a long time now. I've been a big supporter and still think he can get out of this funk he's been in. I live in Cleveland and I've taken enough flak for him from friends and coworkers. I think I'm done with all of that though.

It's one thing not to be happy with Rodriguez or to be mad about the #1 jersey "scandal" when he first came, and to be angry that the team has been performing poorly. But to go on TV and publicly take shots at the program is a little childish. Because now, Sparty Nation and Buckeyes everywhere and Michael Wilbon added a little more foil to their tin hats and are rocking back and forth in their chairs, twiddling their thumbs and mumbling to themselves about Michigan and Rodriguez parting ways and the University swirling into an abyss. Wilbon may or may not be sacrificing Northwestern co-eds. Frankly, Braylon might want to downplay the whole Carr thing when he's dropping sure touchdowns and challenging Roy Williams for Most Ineffective #1 Receiver in the NFL.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A word on posting

I know I've been gone for a pretty long time now, but I plan on beginning regular posting again on Monday. Being away from work and losing myself in the holiday season has made posting mostly impossible. For now, enjoy the puppy. And just pretend its a Woodson jersey.