Thursday, February 24, 2011

Porgramming note


In case you hadn't noticed, it's a slow period for Michigan football and around this blog. Time Warner Cable is still without the Big Ten Network (soon, maybe? That's what they told me) and watching basketball games is difficult. Hopefully next week I can start on my player report cards for this season. Until then, posting will be slow.

As a bit of promotion, anyone in the Los Angeles area that's interested in music should probably attend the EMP Pop Conference that's taking place on the UCLA campus. Friends Theon Weber, Jeff Weiss, and Tal Rosenberg will all be presenting on various topics, and many of the other sessions should be interesting as well.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Michigan's 2011 spring roster

In the first bit of spring practice news, Michigan unveiled its spring roster. Here are a few highlights:
  • This week in disturbing position news, Craig Roh is listed as a linebacker. CRAIG ROH IS NOT A LINEBACKER. The hope is that once they get into spring practice, Hoke and Mattison realize this and move him back to his natural position on the defensive line. If they don't, Michigan is wasting one of its more dominant defensive players.
  • Will Campbell is still listed as an offensive lineman, which is in direct contradiction to what Hoke said a month ago. I still have high hopes for Campbell on the defensive side of the ball and given the depth chart at DT, he would be far more useful there.
  • I can haz safeties? This roster lists 14 safeties, more than any other position group on the team. Among those safeties are Cam Gordon and Marvin Robinson, two players who most speculated would end up at linebacker.
  • With Roh listed as a linebacker and the smaller hybrid types all playing safety, it's pretty clear that Hoke is looking for a bit more heft on his linebackers. I'm already having flashbacks to Troy Smith going ham on Michigan's bumbling linebackers.
  • Troy Woolfolk and Cullen Christian are both listed as CBs. Given the amount of players at safety, this is probably for the best, but I'm not sure this is either's natural position. Woolfolk has proven he's a Big Ten corner, but Christian struggled mightily in his limited playing time last year.
  • Defensive linein': Van Bergen is a defensive end. Terry Talbott is tiny (6'3" 248 lbs) and will need another year in the weight room before he sees any playing time. Richard Ash is enormous (6'3" 320 lbs) and will probably end up as the 1-tech DT next to Mike Martin.
Total numbers
Offense Defense Special Teams
QB: 4 DT: 7 PK: 4
RB: 8 DE: 5 P: 1
FB: 1 LB: 9 LS: 4
TE: 6 S: 14
WR: 9 CB: 8
SR: 7
OL: 13
Total: 100

Obviously, many of these guys are walk ons as the roster is 15 players too big (before the recruiting class arrives on campus). As such, these numbers aren't quite accurate, but they do give us a decent breakdown of where the team will be for spring practice. I expect at least a few position switches when the next roster is released.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How clutch are NFL QBs

[Ed. This post isn't about Michigan and stems from an argument I had with a friend about how clutch Ben Roethlisberger is. Since Time Warner Cable doesn't have a deal with the Big Ten Network yet, I had to listen to the NW game on MGoBlue and don't have anything to write about. In any case, I thought what I found here was interesting and decided to post it.]

A few days ago, one of friends mentioned that Ben Roethlisberger was on pace to become the "clutchest" QB in NFL history and that, regardless of the outcome, most of America expected him to march down the field in the Super Bowl and provide yet another game-winning drive. Per usual, I had my doubts. I wasn't convinced of Big Ben's late game heroics and thought that a stat like "game-winning drives" was kind of useless. A more important metric would be to look at how many times a QB is put into that situation and how many times he succeeds.

Finding out that statistic is a little less difficult than you might think (although it's still tedious). had a guest blog post a few years ago that looked specifically at a QBs game-winning drives, after which, they started tracking all game-winning drives by QBs.

There are a few caveats. First, there's a different between game-winning drives and 4th quarter comeback game-winning drives. In the former, teams can be tied in the fourth quarter and the QB can lead the team for the eventual score. The latter, however:
For it to be a 4th quarter comeback win, you must:
  • Win the game (no ties or losses)
  • Take the field with a 1--8 pt deficit (1--7 prior to 1994) and score as an offense (no fumble return TD to win the game)
  • It does not have to be the final winning score (hence, that applies to the number of game-winning drives)
Fairly simple. In my opinion, these are the real drives that indicate a QBs clutchness. Driving when you're tied with the opposition is one thing, but knowing you need to score (and with the other team knowing you need to score) is something entirely different.

For this study, I established similar criteria. For a loss to count against a QB's "clutch rating":
  • the QB must finish the game
  • team must be trailing in the fourth quarter from 1-8 points
  • loss between 1-8 points (unless there was a pick-6 thrown/fumble recovery for TD in a potential clutch drive)
  • the drive(s) in question must start with more than one minute left in the game
  • missed field goals or other mistakes not caused by the QB (e.g., RB fumbles) still count against their score 
  • overtime losses in which you had the ball count against clutch rating. Overtime losses in which the QB doesn't have the ball are not counted
The first criteria is obvious: The QB needs to have the opportunity to be clutch. The second and third are simple: there needs to be a chance for the game to be tied or won during the fourth quarter. I also removed all drives that began with less than one minute remaining in the game. With less than one minute in an NFL game, it is incredibly difficult to mount any sort of substantial drive. So for good or bad, those were removed.

Drives that ended in a missed game-winning field goal or RB/WR/TE fumble also count against the QB. This may not be entirely fair to the QBs in question, but the main point of this is to get a metric by which we can compare them to each other. Given how much of these drives are the result of plays by the skill position players and kickers anyway, the QBs will get dinged when their teammates fail. And in overtime, the immediacy with which you can lose amplifies the situation. Truly clutch QBs will score in OT.

With that in mind, I took a handful of active QBs and looked at every loss they incurred throughout their careers* in order to get some sort of metric for where Roethlisberger stands in the grand scheme of clutchiness. I have two elite QBs (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) and three QBs that are at or near league average (Tony Romo, Chad Pennington, David Garrard). Brady and Manning were included because they appear on the original list of QBs with the most comeback victories. The other three were selected by me with no real rhyme or reason. I assumed Pennington and Garrard would constitute the middle of the pack and Romo would probably be a stepping stone to the elites.

The biggest issue with this whole approach is sample size. The amount of times QBs are put in the position to lead a 4th quarter comeback game-winning drive are pretty small, as you'll see. But most of the quarterbacks had at least two or three of these in each season in which they played a significant amount. Remember, these are the numbers since 2002 and beyond, so Brady and Manning's numbers a) should likely both be a bit higher and b) are not complete:

QB Total attempts 4th quarter comeback game-winning drives Clutch rating
Tom Brady 25 18 72%
Peyton Manning 40 25 62.50%
Ben Roethlisberger 29 18 62%
Tony Romo 16 9 60%
David Garrard 26 11 42.30%
Chad Pennington 24 7 29.16%

The first thing you notice is that, damn, Tom Brady is who you want as a QB when you're down in the fourth quarter. He wins almost 3 out of every 4 games in which his team has been trailing between 1-8 points in the fourth quarter. The next thing you notice is that Roethlisberger has a really high clutch rating, nearly as high as Manning's. If ESPN had stats for games before 2002, my guess is that Manning's would be somewhere around the high 60%s and may even approach the 70%s, but that's all speculation. Romo is also very high though he doesn't have nearly the reputation that the three above him do for being a comeback kid.

On the other end of the spectrum, Pennington has a woeful success rate. Garrard is probably hovering around where the rest of the league is. I don't really have the time or energy to uncover more players clutch rating, but I would venture that most of the league is somewhere in the 35-50%.

In the end, this shows as much about the kinds of games teams are playing in as it does the quarterbacks themselves. For example, Roethlisberger has played in more of these games than Brady has despite being in the league less time. But since these drives (and wins) are attributed to the QBs, so too should the losses. If anything, this gives us a slightly better indication of who can make their respective offense move when it really counts. If nothing else, it's a better method than basing your understanding of a QBs clutchness on total comeback wins alone.

*Unfortunately, because ESPN only has play-by-play analysis of games dating back to 2002, Brady has 4 clutch game-winning drives removed and Manning has 9. These are not insignificant numbers due to a relatively small sample size. And while they would almost certainly improve each's clutch drive percentage, the respective QBs seasons prior to 2002 were very likely also filled with games that would hurt that percentage.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Am I too pessimistic about Michigan basketball?

After yesterday's post on the basketball team, a few commenters noted that I was probably too pessimistic about the team and was showing a bias against Beilein. I took exception to that but realized that I hadn't ever fully explained why I was concerned about the direction of the team.

In short, my biggest concern is that Beilein isn't bringing in the kinds of (or level of) players that he needs to make his system successful. The shooters he's recruiting and mentoring aren't turning into the kind of knock down shooters that his style of basketball needs to be consistently good. But since he plays a high variance brand of basketball, you occasionally get games that look a lot closer than they should be against elite teams and a lot worse than they should be against bad teams. The only way to negate this variance is to find consistent performers and stock your team with them. In my opinion, Beilein hasn't done that and doesn't appear to be taking the team in that direction either.

So I decided to take a look at all of Beilein's WVU teams, as well as the last three year of Michigan's squad. I charted all of the players that recorded over 60 three-point attempts throughout the season (an average of about two per game). I then took those numbers and looked at what percentage of the team's three pointers were being taken by those players and what their collective shooting percentage was:
Year Record 60+ attempts % 3s from 60+ 60+ 3P% % total shots from 3
WVU 02-03 14-15 P. Beilein (36/105)
K. Pittsnogle (49/103)
J. Herber (35/92)
T. Sally (25/85)
D. Schifino (25/83)
J. Yeager (20/68)
536/593 (90.3%) 190/536 (35.4%) 593/1577 (37.6%)
WVU 03-04 17-14 J.D. Collins (19/47)
P. Beilein (69/170)
T. Sally (24/68)
K. Pittsnogle (53/144)
T. Relph (29/80)
462/656 (70.42%) 175/462 (37.87%) 656/1631 (40.2%)
WVU 04-05 24-11 P. Beilein (70/197)
K. Pittsnogle (60/141)
T. Sally (48/132)
M Gansey (44/127)
J. Herber (47/124)
F. Young (21/64)
785/885 (88.7%) 290/785 (36.94%) 885/1930 (45.8%)
WVU 05-06 22-11 K. Pittsnogle (91/227)
P. Beilein (67/203)
M. Gansey (75/175)
F. Young (42/134)
J. Herber (29/114)
J.D. Collins (20/63)
916/967 (94.7%) 324/916 (35.3%) 967/1875 (51.6%)
WVU 06-07 27-9 F. Young (117/270)
A. Ruoff (69/205)
J. Alexander (40/131)
D. Nichols (50/119)
D. Butler (39/113)
J. Smalligan (31/68)
906/989 (91.6%) 346/906 (38.2%) 989/2011 (49.2%)
Mich 07-08 10–22 D. Sims (43/142)
M. Harris (42/132)
A. Wright (35/123)
K. Grady (33/92)
R. Coleman (23/73)
562/731 (76.8%) 176/562 (31.3%) 760/1758 (43.2%)
Mich 08-09 21-14 M. Harris (52/159)
S. Douglass (52/155)
Z. Novak (52/151)
LLP (31/90)
K. Grady (30/83)
D. Sims (26/82)
720/912 (78.9%) 243/720 (33.7%) 912/1910 (47.7%)
Mich 09-10 15-17 S. Douglass (52/158)
M. Harris (48/156)
Z. Novak (44/144)
LLP (30/103)
D. Sims (21/74)
635/760 (83.5%) 195/635 (30.7%) 760/1758 (43.2%)

What you see probably isn't very surprising. Beilein's best team (06-07 West Virginia) saw 91% of their three pointers being taken by six players that were shooting a collective 38%--not to mention that they shot almost 1,000 threes that season. His worst seasons, obviously, are ones in which the majority of the three pointers are coming from a group of players that isn't shooting the ball very well (see: Michigan 09-10).

The more disturbing trend, IMO, is that Michigan's offense through 2009 didn't appear to have the definition that West Virginia's did during his time there. More than one in every five three pointers over the last three seasons has been shot by someone not in Michigan's core group of shooters, implying that Beilein had either given the green light to too many players or the team was just wildly undisciplined (my guess is the former). Much like Beilein abandoned the 1-3-1 last year, it seems that the schemes that made him a commodity at West Virginia were being scrapped for some sort of hybrid system.

This year, however, Hardaway, Novak, Douglass, Smotrycz, Morris, and Vogrich have all taken over 50 shots (about two a game, like above). These six account for alomst all of Michigan's threes--546/576 (94.7%)--and they're shooting at a decent clip, too--197/546 (36.1%)--which looks more like Beilein's better teams in the past and is far more defined that any of his previous Michigan teams.

These are not exactly the numbers I expected going into this process, though. After looking at the success of the 2008-09 season against the statistical breakdown above, the decline last year looks more reasonable: Beilein tried to define his offense in the mold of his previous success but was crippled by horrible shooting. This year, the team's shooting breakdown looks similar to that of previous successful Beilein teams and has some of the shooting to match. Not only does this look sustainable, but it looks like Beilein finally has a plan in place for this team.

I'm still concerned about the collective defense and big-man depth, but if this team can sustain this kind of performance and gain only experience next year, we could potentially see the same success Beilein generated in Morgantown. So while I don't think I was being overly pessimistic/biased, I was uninformed. Which is probably worse.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reality check: Michigan hoops isn't a tourney lock, this year or next

After Michigan upset MSU on the road, the fanbase started chanting "bub-ble, bub-ble" in unison and waiting for another moment like the one to the right. And even after MSU started its precipitous drop out of the rankings, and is a one-point OT win against Indiana away from a six-game losing streak, the blogsphere is asking whether or not Michigan can still sneak into the NCAA Tournament this year and expecting a tournament berth next year. I'm more reserved about my excitement and have reservations about saying this team is going to make the leap next year. (My own hesitance toward John Beilein has been expressly noted recently, FWIW.)

This year, barring upsets over Wisconsin and Minnesota, Michigan will miss the tournament. When it gets to selection time and ESPN is reviewing every bubble team's resume, they'll arrive at Michigan and it will look like this:

Key wins: at Clemson, at MSU, (I can haz another upset?)
Key losses: vs. UTEP, at Indiana

And if Michigan stays par for the course for the rest of the year--beating the bottom dwellers, losing to the elite teams--their losses are more damning than their wins are redeemable. Michigan is solidly an NIT team, but without beating a ranked opponent, Michigan isn't going to sniff the NCAA.

This of course, turns everyone's eyes toward 2012, much like the end of the 2009 season, when Michigan was supposed to make the next leap. The keywords are Tim Hardaway Jr., a young team, and natural progression, none of which are the kind of givens that everyone wants to think they are.

Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway has been the most impressive freshman on Michigan's team this year, showing an ability to get to the bucket with decent, albeit inconsistent, range. MGoBlog describes him thusly:
In the clips above it's not the three-pointers that set hopes to tingle. We've seen Hardaway shoot a ton of threes this year and while he's adding a couple points of shooting percentage to them is encouraging, Michigan has plenty of guys who can take shots from outside the arc. It's the two different drives to the hoop where he glides into the lane and elevates to finish. Yes, you are 6'5". Yes, you are Tim Hardaway's son. Yes, you can turn into the kind of player who's an all-around nightmare. Yes, please, by next year.
Hardaway's skills are impressive, but people are acting like Beilein has never had a player of his ilk before.
Hai, have we not met before?
Hardaway's measurables and stats are remarkably similar to Harris' throughout his career at Michigan:

Harris 07-08 16.1 4.2 2.7 38.10% 31.80%
Harris 08-09 16.9 6.8 4.4 41.50% 32.70%
Harris 09-10 18.1 6 4.1 42.10% 30.80%
Hardaway 10-11 12 3.8 1.5 37.50% 32.60%

Not that adding Manny Harris to this team wouldn't be beneficial, but Hardaway's production and body type--to say nothing of his predilection to take bad three pointers--are things Beilein has had to play with in the past. With any luck, Hardaway will avoid the general apathy and combativeness with the coaching staff that Harris showed toward the end of his career at Michigan, but regardless, seeing Hardaway turn into an unstoppable force is a little optimistic IMO.

Furthermore, one of the reasons that Harris was able to put up so many points in his junior year was because the offense was primarily run through him. The existence of Darius Morris changes the Harris/Hardaway role significantly. What Michigan needs out of the small forward position is someone who can shoot the three and make good cuts; Hardaway only satisfies one of those requirements.

Brian says on MGoBlog that Michigan has plenty of players to shoot three pointers and isn't concerned with Hardaway's ability to do so at a high level. This is wrong, though. If Michigan wants to get away from playing Zack Novak at the power forward position, it'll mean a lineup of: Morris, Novak, Hardaway, Smotrycz, Morgan. With Morris' limited range and Morgan's presence as a low-post threat, that leaves Novak, Hardaway, and Smotrycz to take the majority of the threes. If Hardaway continues to take bad shots or fails to hit the good ones at a high clip, Michigan's offense could stall.

But they're so young. The biggest source of hope is that Michigan's team is once again one of the youngest in the country. Much like in 2009, Michigan's team is at a serious disadvantage in terms of college experience. This was one of the biggest points of optimism for the 2010 season that ultimately saw the team flame out spectacularly and lose close games in agonizing fashion.

On a player-by-player basis, Stu Douglass and Zack Novak both tanked magnificently during their sophomore years before having their best season's to date as juniors. The rest of that class is either no longer with the program or doesn't see significant playing time. The point being that, though it's a common trend, Michigan's freshmen don't have to morph into superstars next year.

In order to make the leap, though, Michigan will need Morgan, Smotrycz, Jon Horford, and Blake McLimans all to significantly improve their production. Morgan's evolution as a post player seems most likely. He's gotten better as the year has progressed, and his biggest weakness is a general lack of speed and poor footwork. With offseason training, most of this should be settled and we will see Morgan become a consistent threat next year in addition to improved defense (his biggest flaw).

The rest aren't quite as cut and dry. Smotrycz's evolution as a big man three-point shooting terror is probably more important than Morgan's improvement. As noted above, Michigan's starting lineup needs more players that can consistently hit three pointers, and having a big man that can stretch the defense is key to Beilein's offense. Smotrycz's 32/86 mark from outside indicates he might have the skills to get there next year, and if he can, that will truly be when Michigan takes the next step.

Horford and McLimans will also need to improve, though their gains have to come in the weight room first. Michigan's PF/C depth is basically non-existent this year and with no big-man commits yet, the importance of their progression is amplified. If one or both of them can't become quality Big Ten backups, it'll be tough sledding for another undersized Michigan iteration.

Do I think this team can be good? Yes, of course, but there are a lot of variables that are up in the air right now--and God forbid any of the starters or contributors gets injured--that make it hard for me to envision notably more success next year. If the freshmen can all make the proverbial leap and Hardaway can improve his three-point shooting, this team can end up ranked next year. But if Hardaway trends more toward Manny Harris' ball domination and none of the big men improve adequately, we'll have to revisit Beilein's job status.

Friday, February 4, 2011

2011 recruiting wrap up

This is late, so someone was bound to say what I would have. Per usual, it's MGoBlog:
Hoke did an okay job, but nothing that should push opinions either way. Not going into the year down eight kids is good...

This class is a wait-and-see sort of thing. We won't know if these late pickups were players RR and other Big Ten schools misevaluated or warm bodies for a while, and we won't know about Hoke's recruiting prowess until the 2012 commits start rolling in and he's competing against Ohio State. Not that Rodriguez won many battles against OSU.
In the short amount of time that Hoke had, he was able to retain the majority of Michigan's committed recruits and add a few 3-star types to the class to fill out the depth chart and possibly find a serious contributor down the line. With the exception of 4-star tight end Chris Barnett, Hoke's haul was unexceptional, but expecting more than that was asking too much: the guy had a month to introduce an entirely new culture to a team, maintain the old regime's current commits (and players), and find ones of his own.

I am still disappointed with this class, though, primarily because of what it could have been had Rodriguez still been around. Thinking back to the Army All American game and watching Kris Frost and Dee Hart both mention Michigan's coaching situation as a negative is still bothersome. Adding Dee Hart, Kris Frost, Jake Fisher, Wayne Lyons, and Avery Walls (or a majority of them anyway) to Rodriguez's committed foundation would've been the makings for his best class since coming to Michigan and would've addressed several needs. But harping on this too much is a waste.

I was one of the many that was upset with the Hoke hire, but since then, things have gone about as well as anyone could've reasonably expected: there has been zero attrition from the team, the committed recruits mostly stuck around and Hoke was able to fill the rest of the class with down-the-line contributors, and Michigan has hired at least one stud coordinator--and apparently, a great recruiter to boot--to remedy the team's greatest weakness.

So now we enter the dead period until spring camp starts again in March and April. Stock up on supplies. It's going to be another long offseason.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Signing Day presser

Brady Hoke
  • We have 19 guys signed at this present time. There may be an addition later.
  • The first thing we had to do was get to know the kids that are on the team right now. Then obviously, it took us some time to look at where we were and what kind of football team we want to be.
  • You look schematically from an offensive perspective and match our needs there. And then you look at the defensive perspective. And then the kicking game.
  • 12 of the young men are defensive players.
  • Because of the elements and what you face because of the weather, you need to play defense and keep teams out of the end zone. 5 DBs, 3 DL, 4 LBs
  • A couple running backs: most of the time they're the best athlete on their team. Somewhere down the road, he may not be your #1 back, but has a passion for it, they make outstanding safeties, corners, slots, LBs. We will always take a couple backs.
  • Michigan is always a national brand. Going to look in the state of Michigan for players that fit the mold. Then work their way out.
  • Response and excitement about having a Michigan coach at a high school is out there.
  • A possibility that this class could still grow by a few players. "We're still working."
  • The foundation that RR and his staff was a good foundation. We'll be a little different as we progress with QBs and backs. Be different from an OL and TE perspective. From a defensive standpoint, they transitioned so much that there are some needs that we need to address. I don't think so much difference in this class.
  • There were only two that Hoke didn't get into their home. Players should feel comfortable with new coaches and be comfortable with the direction of the program.
  • Worked with short recruiting period three different times now. You just go to work.
  • There is no entitlement in this program. Going to be evaluated every day. When you recruit guys, I've never told someone they'll be redshirted and never told a guy he'll play as a freshman. DB, LB: Depending on how a few guys develop and learn, there may be an opportunity to play early.
  • From an athletic standpoint (man coverage, man free), physicalness and schemes was a focus on DB
  • We're going to be a 4-3 defense. Both over and under front.
  • Staff should be complete by Monday.
  • Team doesn't have a choice to buy in (or not) to strength program. Able to watch team run yesterday.
  • Only one player is enrolled this winter (Greg Brown).
  • Hasn't talked to any players about position switches yet. Will make decisions on what's best for the program.
  • Expects all 20 players to qualify. There has been no roster attrition.
  • DT and OL are priorities for 2012. Two of the DEs in this class are going to get bigger and stronger.
  • Greg Brown - Started in January. Engaged in winter conditioning
  • Russell Bellomy - QB. Al Borges looked at 15 QBs. Narrowed down to 4.
  • Brennen Beyer - DE. Athletic guy. Plays with toughness at point of attack. RR had cultivated the relationship
  • Chris Bryant - OL. "Refrigerator with legs and arms".
  • Tamani Carter - Safety. Had committed to another Big Ten school first.
  • Frank Clark - LB out of Glenville
  • Blake Countess - Out of Maryland. Been to Michigan a couple of times. RR did a tremendous job with him.
  • Justice Hayes - RB. 175 lbs now. In 1.5 years, he'll be 190 lbs back [Ed. sounds like a redshirt]. Good feet.
  • Keith Heitzman - Hilliard Davidson HS.
  • Delonte Hollowell - DB from Cass Tech. RR brought in. Talented, good feet, loose hips. Lots of speed.
  • Kellen Jones - LB out of Houston. Length, goes sideline-to-sideline
  • Jack Miller - OL (specifically a center). Toughness and football intelligence
  • Desmond Morgan - LB. Attacks line of scrimmage
  • Antonio Poole - LB out of Cincy. Plays with physicalness.
  • Tony Posada - 6'4", 330 lbs OT/OG from Tampa. "Road grater at the point of attack". "I look small compared to Tony". Between him and Chris Bryant, two guys that fit the mold of M OL will look like.
  • Thomas Rawls - Physical RB.
  • Chris Rock - DE from Columbus.
  • Raymon Taylor - DB from Highland Park. Play the ball in the air and line people up and go through the middle of them.
  • Matt Wile - Kicker.
  • (late addition) Chris Barnett - TE. "We need tight ends". Only two guys on the team that are TE. TE will be an important part offensively. One of the most athletic guys in the country.