This Boat is Real. BURN IT!

Well, they certainly made it interesting for us, did they not?

After Terrence Oglesby was ejected, and Michigan was able to take and sustain a double-digit lead for much of the second half, it seemed like the first round was in the bag, and it was on to Oklahoma (Or Morgan State, as the case may be). However, Clemson suddenly drilled a few 3-pointers, Michigan forgot how to break the press, though they’d been doing it with relative ease all game, and this one turned into a nailbiter. I immediately went from “go for the triple-double, Manny” to “hey, just win, baby.”

Until Stu Douglass came down with that final rebound, this one wasn’t over. I still might not believe the outcome until I see the Wolverines take the court against Oklahoma on Saturday. The Michigan Wolverines, who have not been to the tourney since 1998, are in the second round. The Michigan Wolverines, who started 3 different freshmen and 2 different walkons during this year, are 1 win away from the Sweet Sixteen.

Oliver Purnell, 0-6. John Beilein, 5-1.

Queme los barcos.

Posted under Basketball

Programming Update

Basketball UFRs will be posted sometime this week. The reason for the delay is that I’m currently separated from my DVR. I should have it available to me before the Purdue game, but no guarantees. If there’s interest I can post the plus/minus data before then. It’s the part most people said in the CIL was more interesting, and I don’t need to re-watch the whole game to do them. Let me know in the comments.

Football offseason posts will continue, though they might be slightly more theory-oriented until spring pratice begins and there’s actual news to talk about. While on the topic of spring practice, I should have a bonanza of information up during that period, and it should be a fun time to be around here. I’ll spread news about some of those items as they get a bit more solidified.

I’m hopefully going to get the podcast up and running again, since we haven’t really made one since the end of football season. Possible topics include the end of basketball season, football and recruiting (obviously the bread and butter here at VB), or baseball. Let me know how much interest there is in each of these things (and a podcast in general).

Baseball coverage will continue to go strong with new contributor FormerlyAnonymous, who never got a proper introduction. Without further ado: FormerlyAnonymous is the newest member of VB, bringing the total to 3. He’ll bring the baseball coverage, making Varsity Blue the #1 site for Michigan Wolverines baseball coverage.

Recruiting update #1 for the week should be coming tomorrow. Sorry for the delay, but baseball season has left VB up to our ears in content, and I want to make sure every post get the attention that it deserves.

Thanks for bearing with us at a (surprisingly) busy time for the blog.

Posted under Blog News

Oakland Tickets Contest

I got a couple tickets to the Oakland game at the Palace this Saturday, but due to a unfortunate sequence of events, I can’t go to the game.  This should be a really interesting game to go see as it’s Laval Lucas-Perry’s first game, and since it’s not at an NCAA they may serve alcohol (although not as important with Michigan’s newly found competance!).

Unfortunately, up until a little bit ago, I thought I was going to the game, so this is a bit last minute.  You’ll have to be able to pick up the tickets in Ann Arbor.

To enter just leave a comment on why you should be given a pair of tickets to the Michigan/Oakland basketball game.

Winner will be announced and contacted sometime Friday, so if you enter, check your e-mail.

Posted under Blog News

The Afterglow: Basketball vs. Eastern Michigan

At some point during the first half of the basketball game against Duke, I decided that I was going to go to the basketball game against Eastern Michigan.  As opposed to previous years, I have actually enjoyed watching this team play.  They are generally likeable players who are well coached and play hard for the entire game.  I remember watching the teams with Horton, Hunter, Abrams, among others, trying to win games and do well, but failed by their coach.  Watching Tommy Amaker stand there and wave his finger as though that meant anything other than pass it around the perimeter then let Horton make a huge play was one of the most frustrating things to watch.

I saw flashes of the Beilein system last year and was really excited for the season this year.  This year with only a few new contributors (Novak and Douglass) Beilein has made this into a very entertaining and, more importantly,  competative team.  I’m committed now to attend as many games as I can.  Tim is probably going to head to the Big Ten Championship.  This is almost exclusively the result of Beilein’s coaching.  He has, in less time than I ever thought possible, made Michigan Basketball relevant on campus again.  Now there’s a plan for a new practice facility going before the Regents in January.  This is a program on the rise, and I can see Beilein getting Michigan getting this team all the way with the right personnel and a bit of luck.

Eastern Michigan Specifically

  • The attendance was actually fairly impressive for a game where most of the students are either home or studying for exams.  Granted the fact that the “away” team was a defacto second home team and student tickets are free, but no way would this game be that well attended last year.
  • It was kind of weird that they never announced at the game that Beilein wasn’t there.  I didn’t know until someone texted me.
  • If you told me that Manny Harris would be held to 2 points in the first half and DeShawn Sims wasn’t all that effective either, no way I would have guessed that Michigan would have a 10 point lead.
  • No one can stay in front of Kelvin Grady.  I actually look forward to seeing teams trying to press him.
  • Manny Harris has this ability to get wherever he wants on the floor whenever he wants.  It’s a bit absurd how he can knife through  the defense.  It wasn’t just against Eastern, either; he was able to do it against UCLA and Duke.
  • Jevohn Shepherd may be my favorite player on the team.  He doesn’t have the tools of Sims or Harris, but he’s gone from being an afterthought to a very solid contributor.  He even carried the team a while in the first half.
  • The biggest applause of the game was when Lloyd Carr walked in during half time.

Posted under Basketball

The Path to the NCAA Tournament

With Michigan’s basketball team attaining a new standard of relevance, it’s easy to see how Wolverines fans are already prognosticating a run to the NCAA tournament. Wins over UCLA and Duke are certainly a stepping stone towards achieving that goal, but there is still work to be done. Let’s see what Michigan has to do to make it into the Big Dance. Sagarin Ratings are little more than a rough draft at this point, but they give us some idea of the relative strengths of the teams.

Completed Schedule
Date Opponent Sagarin Result Record
11-11-08 Michigan Tech (DII) 77-55 1-0
11-12-08 Northeastern 151 76-56 2-0
11-20-08 (n) UCLA 20 55-52 3-0
11-21-08 (n) Duke 4 56-71 3-1
11-25-08 Norfolk State 321 83-49 4-1
11-29-08 Savannah State 230 66-64 5-1
12-3-08 @Maryland 39 70-75 5-2
12-6-08 Duke 4 81-73 6-2

The wins over UCLA and Duke were certainly not expected, and one could easily maintain that Michigan has done better through the first part of its schedule than could possibly have been expected. Salvaging the win over Savannah State was key. Had Michigan been able to top Maryland on the road (and, in all honesty, they should have), we’d be looking at a pretty highly-ranked team right now.

Remaining Non-conference Schedule
Date Opponent Sagarin Projection
12-13-08 Eastern Michigan 261 W
12-20-08 Oakland 124 W
12-22-08 Florida Gulf Coast 317 W
12-29-08 NC Central 345 W
2-7-08 @ UConn 7 L

The remaining four games before the start of the conference schedule are all must-wins. Even with some good victories under their belt, the Wolverines would be devastated by a loss to any of these teams. The mid-year tilt with UConn looks like a loss this early in the year, but who knows where the teams will be come February?

Conference Schedule
Date Opponent Sagarin Projection
12-31-08 Wisconsin 31 W
1-4-09 Illinois 25 T
1-7-09 @ Indiana 146 W
1-11-09 Iowa 65 W
1-14-09 @ Illinois 25 le=”border:1px solid rgb(0,0,102);”>L
1-17-09 Ohio State 5 L
1-20-09 @ Penn State 80 W
1-24-09 Northwestern 36 W
1-28-09 @ Ohio State 5 L
1-31-09 @ Purdue 33 L
2-5-09 Penn State 80 W
2-10-09 Michigan State 37 T
2-15-09 @ Northwestern 36 T
2-19-09 Minnesota 57 W
2-22-09 @ Iowa 65 T
2-26-09 Purdue 33 T
3-1-09 @ Wisconsin 31 L
3-7-09 @ Minnesota 57 T

Going into the conference schedule, it loks like Michigan will have a 10-2 record (and will and with a 10-3 non-conference record overall). The conference predictions are little more than guesses at this point, because it’s hard to tell this early in the season exactly how good all these teams are. Regardless, I project Michigan to be 17-8 (7-5) with 6 in-conference toss-ups. They would likely need to win at least two of those toss-ups, but preferably three to bring them to 20-11 (10-8). This would nearly assure them a bid to the NCAA tournament, especially if combined with a win or two in the Big Ten Tourney. 19-12 (9-9) would likely necessitate a couple wins in the Big Ten Tournament to warrant an NCAA bid.

Of course, Michigan will overachieve at times, and likely underachieve at others. The key is to minimize bad losses, and win most of the games that they should. Combined with the possibility for an upset or two, they should be able to make the tournament.

Another key will be closing the season strong. Unlike college football, finishing the regular season strong is an established criterion for selection to the NCAA tournament. With a likely loss and three tossups in the final four regular-season games, Michigan will have to find a way to win a couple of those tossups to warrant strong consideration.

Posted under Basketball

Happiness Comes Back to Saturday

Tim bought tickets for the Duke game on a whim earlier this year. Before the season started, we figured it would at least be a big game with national coverage. After the UCLA game, it started to look like it might be winnable. After the first Duke game, we figured the team could at least make a game of it.

I haven’t been to that many basketball games, but this was the best crowd I have ever seen at Crisler. There were times that it was absolutely ready to explode, but it rarely got to that next, euphoric level. There was a Novak three point attempt that just rimmed out, a Manny Harris missed dunk (which was a horrible no call), and a lot of other times Duke was able to come down and get a big basket. I know Tim and I felt impending doom, and it seemed like the crowd as a whole had that feeling. We all wanted to believe, but Michigan could never pull away and Duke kept hitting big shots.

What I thought really showed that this team has really gotten to the “next level” was the start of the second half. Duke went on a run and there were a 3 or 4 calls that went against Michigan (not all of them “bad” calls, but rather calls that could reasonably be no-calls). Duke got a bit of a lead and the “here we go again” feeling started setting in. Then, Michigan went on their own run. Novak hit a monster three-pointer from both corners, and Manny was able to knife through Duke’s defense and get to the basket. Suddenly Michigan was up 5 or so. Watching the Maryland game, I kept thinking that all they needed was a basket, stop and a basket to have a chance at winning that game. They weren’t able to do that, but at home, against Duke, they pulled together and stopped the run and put together one of their own. Duke didn’t seem to play particularly poorly either. They ran their offense efficiently and looked decent on defense.

A few random things:

  • Manny Harris can’t be stopped. He seems to be able to get to the basket at will, regardless of who he’s playing against.
  • DeShawn Simms was on fire in the first half and came up with some big offensive rebounds in the second half.
  • Zack Novak is quickly becoming one of my favorite players. He is absolutely fearless shooting the ball.
  • Did Anthony Wright even take a shot? Weird…
  • I feel comfortable with Kelvin Grady breaking any press that’s thrown at him. He has great speed and some nice moves. He just needs to finish more consistently. He was clutch at the end.
  • Rushing the court at the end of the game is completely acceptable. Tim and I didn’t participate (we were in the nosebleeds), but this is one of the biggest wins in the post-sanctions era.
  • I wish I could have heard the interview between Bilas and Beilein. Awkward! The shot was absolutely awesome with Beilein in front of a bunch of crazy fans. Maybe this is a result of blogging, but our first thought was “this will be awesome for recruiting”

Posted under Basketball

Michigan-Maryland Postgame

A few quick thoughts on last night’s game:

  • Man, Anthony Wright just sucks. I’ve thought that all along, but I decided to try to trust those who know a little more basketball than I do. Unless Wright goes on a ridiculous tear sometime soon, I shall not be dissuaded.
  • Early in the second half, I thought Maryland was making a run, and as long as Michigan kept it close during said run, the Wolverines would be able to pull away at the end. I was wrong. This team isn’t deep enough right now to win games like that against quality competition.
  • Speaking of depth, with Laval Lucas-Perry, Michigan probably win this game. That’s definitely something to look forward to in a couple weeks. Michigan really needed another person who could test the defense of the Terps.
  • Manny Harris tends to force things too often, leading to turnovers. If something isn’t there, he needs to calm down a bit and let the play develop.
  • The full-court press didn’t cause any turnovers (that I can remember off the top of my head, at least), but man, did it give us hell. There were a lot of times I was surprised we managed to break half-court.
  • If we had gotten a few more rebounds, the Wolverines could have won this game. Zack Gibson let so many go straight through his hands.
  • I’m certainly watching the game through maize-colored lenses here, but it certainly seemed like the officiating was bad in general and… slanted… in particular. A big part of that may be the home-court advantage in college basketball, but it seemed like we got very few calls, and Maryland got a lot of really close thigns called their way.

Posted under Football

Big Ten/ACC Challenge

In its 9 years of existence, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has been fairly one-sided: The ACC has won every single time. 2008 brings yet another chance for the Big Ten to break through in the Challenge. Through two days of competition, the conference are tied at 3 wins apiece (thanks, Illini and Hawkeyes, for throwing your games away). With a couple daunting games left (UNC/MSU, Indiana/Wake Forest), the teams who represented the bottom of the conference last year will have to sweep the ACC in order for the Big Ten to lock up its first challenge.

Sagarin Ratings in remaining games

  • #129 Indiana visits #22 Wake Forest, and they’ll be 16.39 point underdogs in Raleigh-Durham.
  • #83 Penn State takes on #58 Georgia Tech on the road, in a game in which the Jackets will be favored by 5.13 points.
  • #23 Michigan State hosts #1 North Carolina at Ford Field. They will be 10.21-point dogs in the neutral-site game. However, The ‘Heels may be without their star, Tyler Hansbrough (who, of course, they’ve been without for much of this year).
  • #46 Florida State goes to Chicago to face #59 Northwestern, and the Big Ten actually has a favorite in this one! The Cats are 7.06-point favorites.

…And that brings us to the game that Michigan fans care most about: the Wolverines head to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins at 7:30 tonight on ESPNU.

Maryland sports a #34 Sagarin Rating, and Michigan is #40. On a neutral floor, Beilein’s bunch would be a 2.36-point underdog. In a home game, the Terps are favored by 6.36. They enter this contest on a two-game slide against Gonzaga and Georgetown. Maryland’s best player is the outstandingly-monikered Grievis Vasquez, who leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists. His effective field goal percentage is 45.88%, which is supbar. Georgetown managed to shut Vasquez down, holding him to 1-7 shooting (0-4 3pt).

Michigan State

  • Maryland faced Michigan State (on a neutral floor) in the Old Spice Classic, and beat the Spartans handily, by a score of 80-62.
  • Michigan State, the only team Maryland has played with a Sagarin rating anywhere remotely close to Michigan’s, Vasquez still only shot 42.86 eFG%, meaning that he is certainly containable (of course, his 17 points were aided by the Spartans sending him to the free throw line 6 times).
  • Michigan State lost the game against Maryland by giving up too many good looks from the outside. The Terrapins shot 9-19 from behind the arc in the Old Spice Classic. For the year, Michigan’s opponents are shooting 27.45% from three, including bad performance by UCLA and Duke, and an inexplicable 7-9 from Savannah State. For its part, Maryland’s performance against State was a pretty significant outlier in the young season.
  • The Terrapins also managed to shut down Raymar Morgan, who to this point in 2008 has been MSU’s go-to player. Michigan doesn’t rely on a post presence like Morgan, instead shooting the ball from outside a lot, and getting slashes to the basket from Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims (who also posts up a bit).
  • Although Maryland shut down MSU’s post presence, they don’t have a lot of size, and it will be interesting to see whether DeShawn Sims can have a bit more success down low (along with Zack Gibson) – or at least use the postup to open up shooters outside.

The Wolverines face a tough test, especially since Maryland shut down a team expected to be far better than them in the Spartans. However, the Terrapins haven’t been without their troubles, and Michigan is a different type of team than Michigan State, regardless of difference in talent level.

Go Blue, beat the Terrapins!

Posted under Football

Beilein Gets His Signature Win

Going into the game against UCLA, I figured it would be a idea to play a drinking game where you take a drink for every field goal made. For the first few minutes it looked like a good call as UCLA appeared to be creeping out to a big lead at 9-1. Then something weird happened.

The team last year at times looked confused in the 1-3-1 defense. They didn’t get to their spots in time, couldn’t recover on the swing. It looked like it wasn’t going to work. Against UCLA the 1-3-1 allowed Michigan to aggressively trap and force a ton of turnovers.

The hardest part about watching the Amaker years was the complete lack of fundamentals coaching, especially on the offensive end. Lazy passes, bad spacing, and no movement were the norm rather than the exception. In this game we saw great bounce passes to back-cutting players, exceptional spacing for our players to get to work, and good shooting from the outside. Beyond that, there were a lot of good shots that the players just couldn’t finish. Soon they’ll be able to get those shots to go down and we’ll have a very potent offense on our hands.

At the end of the game I was waiting for UCLA to come back and win. Being a Michigan fan, my experience in the recent past is often “get a glimmer of hope; get that violently beaten to death.” After UCLA made the 3pt shot to get it within one I could feel myself thinking “OK. This is it.” Then, Michigan was able to inbound the ball, not just to anybody, but to a very legitimate closer in “Manny” Harris (quick aside: is it weird that out of Corperryale Manny Harris it’s the Manny that gets the quotes?). I jumped up and started cheering. This was before Manny nailed the two free throws. From my years watching Amaker “coach” Michigan, I fully expected either a 5-seconds call or the ball being taken away on the inbounds. Instead, they got to Manny who got fouled with 4.6 seconds left. He walked to the line and sank two huge free throws like it was practice. UCLA gets a great inbounds pass almost all the way to half court and gets to the arc. The whole time I was yelling “foul him! for the love of all that is good and holy in this world foul him!’ Instead, Harris decides he’ll just block the attempt. Game over.

Sure, UCLA is probably overrated. They lost a ton of production last year, but they are still one of the better defensive teams out there and Michigan only had 10 turnovers. 10 turnovers to 15 assists against a team that usually plays lights out man-to-man defense. This team is turning the corner. I have no reason not to believe they have a shot at the tourney come March. If they can hang with and beat UCLA, there’s very few teams they don’t have a shot to beat. Before the UCLA game, I would have been happy with a barely above .500 season where the team looks good and hangs in tough against the big dogs, but now I think Michigan has a chance to do a lot of damage, especially in conference play once they get Lucas-Perry playing.

The kids seem like they believe they can make the Tournament. I know Beilein believes they can do it. They know a hell of a lot more about their chances then I do. So, I guess get ready for March Madness.

Posted under Football

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Coaches v. Cancer Crisler Regional

I did not attend either of Michigan’s games in their regional of the 2Ksports Classic benefitting Coaches v. Cancer (not getting into town until tomorrow: drat!), but I did manage to catch most of both games on ESPNU by heading out to local drinking establishments.

Pre-game tonight (IM conversation):
Paul: no one wanted to go to the bball game with me… i’m so surprised
Tim: haha. are you still going to go?
Paul: no
Tim: typical michigan basketball fan. i would go if i were there.
Paul: who wants to go to the bball game alone. that would be sad
Tim: der uberzing.

And on that note:

  • Am I supposed to be able to tell Zach Novak and Stu Douglass apart? I hope not.
  • I love how “Academic All-Big Ten” is a synonym for “former walk-on.” However, it appears that, in basketball, “former walk-on” manages to not be a synonym for “white.”
  • ESPNU’s coverage is… lacking. The worst part is the ridiculous length of commercial breaks.
  • Manny Harris is much better than last year (with necessary caveats about level of competition), but he still tries to make things happen more than he needs to, resulting in turnovers or bad shots.
  • What’s with Jevohn Shepherd changing numbers? That’s going to take some getting used to.
  • Nobody on Michigan can rebound to save their lives.
  • When are the kids on the fringes of the Maize Rage going to realize they look stupider being the only ones not to jump around than they would if they just went with the flow?
  • A pair of good performance by the Wolverines, beating the teams they should. Now they have to pull off a surprise or two in the Garden.

Posted under Football