Monday, March 21, 2011


John Beilein is not a great recruiter. With the exception of the occasional diamond in the rough (Tim Hardaway Jr., for example) Beilein's recruiting can be generously called pedestrian. Some of that is surely due to the fact that he's a system coach, and it's a system that a lot of kids believe is unable of getting them to the next level. Other factors may be more self-imposed: Beilein is looking for a very specific player, the likes of which aren't typically ranked highly in the national recruiting game. But what Beilein lacks in the recruiting scene, he makes up for by being arguably the best Big Game coach in the country.

If you gave identical sets of players to Beilein and any other coach in the country and gave them a week to prepare before playing one another, the smart money is on Beilein. From the Clemson game in Michigan's last Tourney appearance, to the throttling of Tennessee on Friday, to the two-point loss to the defending national champs yesterday--a game in which Michigan probably gave up an average of three inches at every position--Michigan's efforts in big games are Herculean, in no small part because Beilein just Gets It. Were the rim just a smidge bigger or the refs not so intent on giving Coach Krzyzewski his 900th win yesterday, Michigan could have very well knocked off a team they had no business being on the court with, in no small part because of Beilein.

But after a somewhat miraculous run (that began just moments after I started wondering if Beilein should even be retained next year), Michigan finishes with their second NCAA Tourney win in three years and will return its entire team next year to make, hopefully, a serious run at the Big Ten title. And while last year, when the team began the season ranked a lofty #15 in the country and sputtered under infighting and lofty expectations, next year's team will have the look of one that, on paper at least, has been there before and is ready for the challenge.

  • Officiating. Ugh. There were more touch fouls called against Michigan against Duke  than I've ever seen in a college basketball game. Jordan Rules applied to the entirety of their roster and the refs were going to be damned if their names didn't go down in Krzyzewski's scrap book as the guys who whistled their way to his 900th win.
  • In spite of that, Michigan found a way to keep the game within reach, largely because of the 1-3-1 that they went to late in the second half. They showed the zone earlier in the game and it was duly shredded because the players weren't aggressive enough. For the 1-3-1 to really work, players have to aggressively attack the ball handler and trap whenever possible. In the first half, it was a passive zone that Duke cut up, but in the second half, Duke started running clock too soon and Michigan could attack and trap causing difficult shots.
  • Speaking of zones, that's basically all Michigan did against Tennessee on Friday where they showed the world just how bad the Vols are at shooting round orange balls into metal hoops. That was pure annihilation. Kudos to the team for not just winning another Tourney game, but for handing in the biggest trouncing in the history of the 8-9 matchup.
  • That runner by Morris. Should. Have. Dropped. The team deserved it.
  • Hardaway, while he ended with a decent stat line, seemed nonexistent against Duke until that ice cold three pointer late in the game. Some of his energy was spent covering Kyle Singler on the defensive end, but when Michigan's offense was sputtering, it would've been nice to see him get a few more looks.
  • Though Zack Novak may have a limited skillset, dude is money in big games. Shooting 4-6 against Tennessee and 4-9 against Duke from the outside confirms that Novak is Michigan's go-to three point shooter. Stu Douglass, on the other hand, disappeared from sight during the tournament. Getting him back to his long-range shooting form will be essential if Michigan is able to make the proverbial leap.
  • The big men all looked good in the tournament. Jordan Morgan was slipping screens all game against Duke and distributing the ball well. Although he ran into the foul trouble in both games (you can hardly blame him against Duke). Evan Smotrycz had probably his best game of the year against Duke. If that's what we can expect all of next year, look out. Jon Horford even got some burn and in his limited time, managed to posterize a Dukie.
To the offseason we go, but this year, there will be less "Are we going to win any games next year?" and more "I can't wait for this team to get back on the court."

Friday, March 11, 2011

The media and Jim Tressel

There's not a whole lot that I can say regarding the Jim Tressel TatGate/LieGate situation that you don't already know: Tressel, after receiving e-mails in April that said several of his players may be ineligible for selling memorabilia in exchange for goods, failed to notify his supervisors or the NCAA, and on three separate occasions, either withheld information or lied about what he knew. The school eventually uncovered the e-mails and, after a leak in the athletic department, the public got a hold of the information. In response, Ohio State, seemingly without acknowledging the gravity of the situation or taking note of precedent, thought a two-game suspension (against cupcakey cupcakes) and a $250,000 fine was sufficient punishment.

To say that the media has fallen in two groups regarding the punishment isn't even accurate. It's nearly unanimous that these penalties are a gross miscalculation. But the two sides of the argument fall on either side of the "Tressel is a good guy" line. Count me on the side that's currently lined up outside Torch and Pitchfork'R'Us like it's Black Friday, anticipating the NCAA's eventual ruling on the matter.

After living in Ohio for two years, I have a fair amount of friends that are both Ohio State sympathizers or worse, fans. When these allegations broke, I suggested that this is going to be very bad for the school, to which they all responded "h8r" and laughed when OSU announced their self-imposed penalties. My best guess as to the NCAA's punishment--3-5 years probation, vacating 2010's wins, a show-cause penalty on Tressel, and, depending on whether or not the Lack of Institutional Control, Failure to Promote an Atmosphere of compliance, and Failure to Monitor charges stick, possibly also scholarship reductions--appeared far fetched at best. But as the media snowball continues to grow, those feel ever likely.

The strangest part of all of this has been the response of the media. Some people are already calling for Tressel's head and others are saying that stronger penalties are in order but Tressel should keep his job. Those in defense of The Senator, however, seem to rely on only one piece of "evidence" as means for dismissal of these charges: "B...but he's such a good guy." This, however, is also a crock.

As MGoBlog laid out on Wednesday, throughout Tressel's entire career, he's had multiple high-profile players declared ineligible because of improper benefits but somehow managed to skate by without any penalties whatsoever. And that's not to mention the 375 secondary violations that Tressel's program has self-reported between 2000 and 2009. Six: the number of secondary infractions that "sleazeball" Lane Kiffin committed at Tennesse. Thirty-seven: the average number of secondary infractions that Tressel's program commits every year for the last decade. Because Tressel is generally reserved and speaks Lloyd Carr levels of cryptic gibberish when he's asked anything specific, he's avoided being thrown under the bus the way media whore Kiffin was*.

Have you read a single defense of Tressel in this whole mess that didn't try to justify Ohio State's lenient penalties with anything other than "But he's such a stand-up guy"? Tressel and Ohio State don't have a leg to stand on here. Your reputation as a quality coach and good guy--however tenuous that actually is--don't hold up when you commit a flagrant violation of the rules** that took a near inquisition to unwillingly uncover.

The NCAA will make a mockery of itself if it doesn't come down hard on Ohio State and Tressel. I'm not sure if the show-cause penalty, which would essentially terminate Tressel, will come to pass, but if it doesn't, significant scholarship reductions and a long probation will be necessary, as will other serious penalties when/if the NCAA finds more infractions during their ongoing investigation of the school. Tressel finally got caught with his hand in the cookie jar he's so frequently dipped into. This was bound to happen, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

*I'm not standing up for Kiffin here. That idiot deserved everything that he received. But when you hold compare the two's relative adherence to NCAA law, Kiffin comes out ahead.
**Aside from the massive penalties that the NCAA should levy against Ohio State, Tressel's violations did one very important thing for Michigan fans: it ostensibly stopped Michigan State from winning an outright Big Ten title. Even if OSU has to vacate its 2010 record, it doesn't forfeit the games it won leaving MSU and Wisconsin to share the title. This is funny.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Programming note

One of my best friends from college and one of the best Wolverines I know passed away last week after battling colon cancer. His funeral is on Saturday, meaning I'll be in transit for most of the day tomorrow and Sunday, and will miss most of the Big Ten Tournament. Coverage will be either slim or nonexistent. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, March 7, 2011

MSU: #winning

This is how I watched the Michigan/MSU game on Saturday. Despite recently spending far too much money on a flat-screen LCD TV, I live in a geographically undesirable location to watch Michigan sporting events: aside from the fact that my cable provider doesn't have the Big Ten Network, I'm also well outside the footprint of regional coverage. So out of frustration--both from the inability to see games and lack of use of my shiny new toy--I began researching how I could watch the CBS live stream on my TV.

As it happens, my aging laptop was well prepared enough to come equipped with an HDMI output. And having a next-gen television, I was outfitted with a couple of HMDI cables. What you see above was the result, with sound only emanating from my minuscule laptop speakers (loud enough to hear but tinny and grating). My girlfriend had been studying for most of the game but came to my apartment with about 5 minutes left in the second half. I commented, "Well, it's not in HD, but this looks good enough that I can enjoy it."

Michigan's stat line was pretty typical against MSU: 5-19 from beyond the arc, out-rebounded by 19, and only turned the ball over 6 times in 40 minutes. Despite some recent excellent performances from the three-point line, this is what we've come to expect--and in the future, what we can continue to expect--from this basketball team. Darius Morris is a phenom with the ball and the most improved player year-to-year. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a legit scorer with room to grow and mature. Jordan Morgan has turned into a low-post threat with a bevy of offensive moves. The rest of the team is a bunch of role players that know what they're supposed to do and they generally do so well.

This isn't, however, the team of rangy three-pointer sharp shooters we all expected when Beilein came aboard, which was been my biggest concern in the rocky beginning of the Big Ten schedule. In spite of that, Michigan has found a way to compete with almost everyone and beaten a bunch of teams that, had you asked most fans what the results would be before the year, the consensus would've been blow outs. Last year, the team mostly abandoned Beilein's preferred defensive style, the 1-3-1. This year, in spite of mediocre outside shooting, Michigan has found ways to win inside-out, not really resembling the Beilein teams of old.

This team isn't HD, but they're good enough to enjoy.

Michigan now heads into the Big Ten Tournament ranked fourth in the league after an 8-3 run to end conference play. They're tied with Illinois in the conference as well as overall, and a win over the Illini would almost certainly lock up an NCAA tournament bid. As it stands, Michigan is probably (probably) in anyway with one of those epic "Wait for our name to be called" moments on the horizon. The best news is that the NCAA can't take MSU without also taking us. It feels good to have a win like this over our rivals again.

My reports of John Beilein's death were greatly exaggerated. #tigerblood

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Denard Robinson: Ubiquitous

Chances are, you've already seen this, but I'll post it for posterity. Robinson was a clue on a recently high school Jeopardy! episode. The best part about the video is that the girl that answers the haplessly intuitive question correctly looks dumbfounded by the answer she just gave.