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Monthly Archives: January 2010

[UPDATE: The Pitt to the Big Ten rumors are, predictably, completely false, as reported by the Chicago Tribune from a Big Ten source. I still think Pitt is a very viable candidate to join the Big Ten, but the conference will stick to their 12-18 month review period before moving forward with any expansion plans. Since this article looks into Pitt’s viability as a candidate to be a 12th team, I still think it’s worth reading, but please be aware that nothing official will happen until December, at the earliest.]

Sorry, couldn’t help myself with that title. I know, it’s awful.

Internet scuttlebutt — and I stress that at this point the rumors are no more than that — has Pitt joining the Big Ten as a 12th team, likely in the fall of 2012 (probably the earliest a move from one major conference to another could be feasibly made). Obviously, this is far from a done deal, since there is no official confirmation (or denial) coming from any of the major parties, but I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at what Pitt would bring to the Big Ten, and the ramifications of adding a 12th team.

Heisman winner Tony Dorsett is a part of Pitt's rich football tradition.

Football: Pitt’s recent rise back to national prominence (or, at the very least, relevance) would make them a more-than-acceptable addition to the Big Ten as a football school. The Panthers finished last season with a 10-3 record and were ranked #15 in the final AP poll, and after a rocky start to the Dave Wannstedt era (16-19 in his first three seasons) it appears Pitt has built up enough talent to compete on a national level (19-7 last two seasons).

A move to the Big Ten would allow Pitt to renew their storied series with in-state rival Penn State — the two teams have met 96 times on the football field, but haven’t played each other since the 2000 season. Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State has been without a natural rival, and while their contests against Michigan and Ohio State have become hotly-contested because of their impact on the conference title, having a natural rival with some history would be good for PSU and the conference as a whole.

Of the realistic candidates for a 12th Big Ten team (that excludes Notre Dame, Texas, and Nebraska, for the record), Pitt probably has the best football tradition: the Panthers have played the sport since 1890, claim nine national titles (1915, 1916, 1918, 1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, 1937, and 1976), and boast a Heisman Trophy winner (Tony Dorsett, 1976), 24 College Football Hall of Fame inductees, and 49 consensus All-Americans, including such names as Hugh Green, Dan Marino, and Larry Fitzgerald.

The biggest knock against Pitt’s football resume would be their stadium: the school tore down the ancient Pitt Stadium after their final season there in 1999, and have shared a stadium with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seasons since. The Panthers take second-class status behind the Steelers in their own stadium, and have a difficult time selling out Heinz Field — in 2008, Pitt averaged 49,352 fans in a stadium that holds just over 65,000.

Pitt hasn’t been a national power for a generation or so, but their recent success, rivalry with Penn State, and rich tradition make them a welcome addition to the Big Ten as a football school. With back-to-back bowl appearances, at least two more years with electric running back Dion Lewis, and solid recruiting classes from Wannstedt (Rivals rank last four years, in order: 21, 26, 28, 47), I think the Panthers could be a Wisconsin-type presence in the Big Ten — a little up-and-down in terms of success, but a team that usually finishes in the upper half of the conference standings and occasionally threatens to make a BCS bowl.

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Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of "Michigan Stadium" and "music"

Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of "Michigan Stadium" and "music"

Brian has already covered this in his latest Unverified Voracity, but I figured I would chip in my two cents on the piped-in music at Michigan Stadium, in the wake of Maize n Brew Dave posting his suggestions for what should be played over the PA (in short, a lot of 80s metal). Brian makes a couple great points in his post: it’s impossible to make 100,000+ people with widely varying ages and musical tastes happy with piped-in music, and what the music takes away from more traditionalist fans in gameday experience far outweighs what it adds for those who support it. Personally, I initially enjoyed the new music — the first time “Lose Yourself” came on over the PA, I got pretty excited. Then came a bombardment of “Sweet Caroline” (seriously, anyone who plays that song at a game, party, bar, wedding, etc. should have flesh-eating beetles inserted into their ears), “Don’t Stop Believin'” (ditto), and Bob Seger, played at 1000x the recommended volume for sound quality. So, yeah, the musical choices aren’t really adding anything to the game, except to please the (admittedly sizeable) Rick’s-going, fist-pumping portion of the student section.

Here’s my biggest problem with the piped-in music: it kills the crowd noise. This sounds crazy, as it was intended to have the opposite effect, but I can’t count the number of times last season (especially on defense) when the student section began making noise, only to be drowned out by the 657th playing of “Welcome to the Jungle” or some other beyond-played-out song. With the band playing, the students have set cheers, and the band has over a century of experience in knowing how to work the crowd into a football frenzy. I come to Michigan Stadium for the team, the experience, and yes, the tradition. Axl Rose is not part of that tradition. “Hawaiian War Chant” is. Let’s end this experiment while we can still say it was just that, an experiment, and a failed one at that.

[Steps off soap box]

In other, more directly football-related stuff, Markus has a great post over at Maize n Brew with some in-depth research on the correlation between defense and winning in the Big Ten (hint: having a good one helps), and how Michigan should go about developing their D. At The Fifth Quarter (the blog, not the crappy 18+ bar), JB breaks down Michigan’s needs on offense and defense for the recruiting class of 2011. I agree with him for the most part, except that I think Michigan needs, at the bare minimum, four offensive line prospects next season, after securing just one lineman in this year’s class.

On to hoops, where Burgeoning Wolverine Star, continuing his streak of not-at-all-depressing posts, ponders the future of Michigan basketball without DeShawn Sims. If you think our depth up front is poor now, you may not want to click that link. Hopefully, Evan Smotrycz can come in and immediately contribute as a power forward, and Jordan Morgan or Blake McClimans or Jon Horford (2010 recruit and brother of Al) or anyone 6’8 or taller can play a passable center. Ben Cronin being irreparably broken really, really hurts. For the lighter side of Michigan hoops, check out the WLA’s article, “The Ineffable Lightness of Laval Lucas-Perry,” which contains a Ghost reference and therefore I must link to it.

Michigan has a huge series with Michigan State this weekend (game one is tonight at 7 at Munn, televised on the BTN; game two is tomorrow night at Joe Louis Arena, on FSN and FSN-HD), and both The Blog That Yost Built and MGoBlog have the requisite previews. The Big Picture, courtesy of Brian:

This is the biggest series left in the season for many reasons. One: it’s Michigan State. Two: a sweep puts the MSU-UM pairwise comparison back in play; anything short of that and Michigan basically can’t win it unless the two teams meet in the CCHA playoffs. (And even then Michigan will probably have to get three points this weekend.) Three: Michigan can drop two, maybe three games in the eleven they have left and still have a reasonable chance of a bid without a CCHA tourney championship. Aside from the Wisconsin game, these two are the toughest left on the docket.

A weekend sweep would be huge for Michigan, with a win and a tie being the only other outcome that won’t cause me to die a little inside.

Finally, John U. Bacon uses the recent episodes involving Jack Johnson (whose GM, Ernie Lombardi, had some very harsh comments regarding Red Berenson and the Michigan hockey program) and Manny Harris (the suspension) to show how Berenson and John Beilein put integrity above all else, including victories — a very good read, and one that makes you proud to root for our programs. Brian (man, I link to this guy a lot — he must be popular) nabs a screenshot from The Wire (the greatest television show ever made) of a corner kid rocking a Michigan baseball jersey while selling drugs to Herc. I’m going to go ahead and say this is great, because The Wire is awesome, and ignore the connections between drug dealing and wearing a Michigan jersey, especially since this is a TV show. In reality, we all know juvenile delinquents root for Ohio State and Michigan State, anyway.

The Cold War II promises to be, um, cold.

The Cold War II promises to be, um, cold.

According to The Detroit News, Michigan’s hockey team will take on Michigan State in an outdoor game at Michigan Stadium on December 11 of this year:

Michigan and Michigan State will take their hockey rivalry to another level in December when they play outdoors at the Big House.

The deal was recently finalized, a U-M official said, and the Wolverines and Spartans will take the ice at Michigan Stadium on Dec. 11 at 3 p.m.

The first time Michigan faced Michigan State outdoors, the teams played to a 3-3 tie at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 6, 2001. The “Cold War” game drew a crowd of 74,554 — a record for college hockey attendance.

Ever since the first “Cold War” game, I’ve wanted to see a return contest in the Big House. Yes, outdoor hockey has jumped the shark a bit since the first contest, with the NHL now holding annual “Outdoor Classic” games on New Year’s Day, and Michigan takes on Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium on February 6. But still, this is Michigan Stadium, and seeing a hockey game played outdoors in the biggest stadium in the country should be a sight to behold. The good news is, with over 108,000 available seats, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a ticket. The bad news is, with the game on December 11, there’s a strong chance of developing hypothermia during the game. That will be a risk I’ll just have to take, however, to be a part of what will almost certainly be the biggest crowd to ever watch a college hockey game.

Shit.

Shit.

Sorry. I have a hard time thinking about last night’s game without bursting out into a stream of expletives. Up three, with a minute and a half on the clock, with the ball — even the most cynical of Michigan fans would’ve had a hard time betting on MSU at that point. If these past couple years have taught Michigan fans anything, however, it is that cynicism is the only protection against crushing disappointment.

Sonofabitch.

A couple points on the last play before I get into player breakdowns:

  1. I was not just okay with the play drawn up at the end, but thought that was by far our best chance of getting a basket in 1.5 seconds from near midcourt. I’ve seen or heard several people say they would have rather seen Michigan get a look at a jump shot. Have you seen Michigan’s ability to hit jump shots? We shot 19-58 from the field against MSU, and 7-29 from three. We managed to get our best inside player a shot from within three feet of the basket. It didn’t fall. Barely. Of all the things to c0mplain about, the final play call is not one of them.
  2. Yes, DeShawn Sims was probably fouled on that last play, as this screenshot from UMHoops shows. If you expect a ref to do anything but swallow his whistle on the final play of a game, however, you haven’t watched a lot of basketball — it would’ve taken a full-fledged assault to draw a foul on that play. That’s basketball. In this instance, we lost. Those are the breaks of the game. If you really want to complain about something, complain about the two airballed three-pointers in the final two minutes, when we could’ve made a last-gasp effort unnecessary.

Motherf******.

Let’s get to the good part about the game: Michigan, with a converted shooting guard and a true freshman manning the point, only turned the ball over four times. I’ve watched a lot of basketball, and don’t remember many games where a team held on to the ball that effectively.

Of course, there’s the bad part about this game (or this team, really): They can’t shoot. At all. I’d love to have an easy explanation for this, be able to say that John Beilein’s offense isn’t getting open looks, isn’t creating chances, and we could all point fingers and play the blame game. When your team goes 7-29 from three, you should be able to say that they were forcing bad shots, and this is a poorly coached team. Except it isn’t. The vast majority of those 29 attempts were good, open looks. But, just like the rest of the season (Michigan is now a stellar 29.7% from three on the year), the shots weren’t falling.

Quickly, before I give up on life, or at least sports, let’s get to the player bullets:

  • Even with the two late misses from DeShawn Sims, you can’t put this loss on either of Michigan’s two stars. Yes, Sims wasn’t efficient on offense, scoring 19 points on 7-18 shooting, but the Wolverines didn’t exactly have a lot of other options to go to. He hit a couple of huge threes down the stretch, and actually went 3-5 from downtown in the game. Manny Harris, after a bit of a slow start, finished with 16 points, four rebounds, five assists, five steals (!), and two blocks. After struggling on the defensive end in his last couple games, Manny came out focused and put in his best defensive effort of the season, cutting off passes like a free safety. The two stars came to play, which leaves, well, the rest of the team…
  • Stu Douglass just can’t get on track, and you can tell from his play that his confidence on offense is completely gone. He had a few plays where he beat his man off the dribble, but instead of going up strong for the layup, Douglass would stop and either force a pass or, in one case, travel. He accounted for three of Michigan’s four turnovers and went just 2-7 from the field (1-5 from three). Michigan’s lack of depth appears to be the only thing between Douglass and the bench — there just isn’t a reliable alternative. He’s going to have to break out of his slump at some point, or his starting spot will be in serious jeopardy when Evan Smotrycz, Tim Hardaway, and potentially Trey Zeigler hit campus next season.
  • I love the way Zack Novak plays — I’m not sure how many more ways I can say I like how much he hustles. This game was no different, as Novak pulled down five offensive rebounds and seemed to get a hand of half of Michigan’s (numerous) misses. However, he shot 2-9 from the field (1-7 from three), and that’s just not going to get it done.
  • Like Novak, Laval Lucas-Perry played a solid game if you took shooting entirely out of the equation. But, since the object of basketball is to put the ball through the basket, it’s tough to praise a starter when he puts up a goose egg on the scoreboard — LLP was 0-4 shooting, and his misses were not pretty.
  • The reason Douglass remains on the floor, as evidenced last night, is that Darius Morris is simply not a threat on the offensive end. Morris played just about how he’s played all season — 20 or so minutes, two points, two assists, one turnover, decent defense, no offensive impact. He had an open look at a three from the corner, and clanged it off the side of the backboard. That about sums up Morris’ offensive acumen at this point in his career. I expect him to get much better, but he just isn’t someone the defense has to account for right now.

Nobody else really got significant minutes, which is merciful, since I’m getting really sick of writing about this game. For more pain recaps, check out UMHoops, MGoBlog, and The Only Colors (an MSU blog, so you’ve been warned).

Manny Harris has reacted well to being disciplined in the past.

Manny Harris has reacted well to being disciplined in the past.

Even with a huge game against rival Michigan State looming tonight, much of the blogosphere’s attention is still on Manny Harris’ suspension, what it means for the team, and the apparent lack of leadership on this Michigan squad. Reactions to Harris’ suspension covered the spectrum of negative emotions, from anger and disgust to disappointment and resignation. Here are a few of the reactions (some coming before the suspension was lifted yesterday, for the record).

UMHoops:

Putting aside whether the suspension was warranted or not, there is a bigger issue here. The fact that Harris did something in practice that warranted suspension.

It’s been a tough couple weeks for Harris. He has been struggled for long stretches, played poor defense, and has just looked lost and out of sorts at times. Some pointed to his lingering hamstring injury but I think it was more the effects of frustrating season, personally and for this team. His struggles peaked versus Wisconsin in what was easily one of his worst games this season.

Harris’s frustration likely reached its boiling point during whatever incident occurred in Friday’s practice. At this point, the key is to figure out how to move on post-incident.

Dylan also points out that Manny has played very well after being disciplined in the past, scoring 28 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and dishing six assists against Penn State after being ejected from the Purdue game and posting 27, 7 and 6 after being benched against Iowa last year.

Burgeoning Wolverine Star:

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.

Maize n Brew:

That’s why this whole thing makes so little sense to me. Michigan wasn’t a top 20 team going into this season. But they were a tournament bubble team. Their wins over Ohio State and Penn State, as well as their dominating until the last five minutes performances against Wisconsin and Northwestern show that this is a capable team. There’s plenty of talent, just not a lot of size. Irrespective of either, Michigan just hasn’t played as a team this season. No one’s stepped up to lead the squad. No one has shouldered the responsibility of being the guy. Not just early in the game, but late when discipline and control matter. Harris may be Michigan’s best player, but he’s made more mental mistakes at critical times already this season than he made all of last year. The biggest by far, was the mistake that got him suspended. Leaders don’t make mistakes like that.

Now that we’ve gotten the latest depressing basketball development out of the way, let’s move on to football (hooray!). The Wolverine has posted their best early guess for the spring depth chart, which is worth checking out for curiosity’s sake. Interesting note: the coaches have changed the depth chart to show two starting slot receivers, with no starting tight ends. I expect Michigan fans will be very split on this. I like any move that gets Martavious Odoms and Roy Roundtree on the field at the same time, as they’re two of our best weapons on offense. However, I also think Kevin Koger has a lot of talent, and would like to see him continue to get ample playing time, and I think there’s a definite place for the tight end position in the spread offense. Keep an eye on this situation as we head into spring ball.

Michigan secured another commitment for the class of 2010, snake-oiling DE/DT Jibreel Black (3* Rivals, 4* Scout) from Cincinnati. Black is a great pickup for Michigan, and a guy who projects to either the three-technique DT spot (Ryan Van Bergen’s position) or defensive end. MGoBlog has your full rundown on Black.

The Other Brian, over at Genuinely Sarcastic, picks up on the ESPN story on Elliott Mealer and his family, who have developed a special connection with Rich Rodriguez and his staff in the wake of the tragic car accident involving the Mealers on Christmas Eve, 2007. It’s great to see the video of Elliott’s brother Brock learning to walk again with Mike Barwis at his side. A great story, and one that hasn’t received enough attention with all the negative press surrounding Rodriguez and Michigan.

Finally, MVictors gives us another Bo story that shows just how awesome and well-respected he was, stemming from a case involving ex-Wolverine Garland Rivers and illegal contact with an agent. Just click over there, since to give context I’d have to block-quote the whole story. Moral of the story: Don’t ever cross Bo.

On that note, make sure to tune in to the game tonight, whether live at Crisler or on TV. Go Blue!

Manny Harris will return to the basketball team after a one-game suspension.

Manny Harris will return to the basketball team after a one-game suspension.

Well, it appears Michigan will actually have a chance tomorrow night against Michigan State; Manny Harris was reinstated to the basketball team by coach John Beilein today, ending Harris’ suspension at one game after an incident at practice last Friday. Harris sounded appropriately apologetic for his actions:

“I fully accept the suspension from the coaching staff,” Harris said in a statement. “It was the correct decision. I cannot tell you my disappointment for letting my teammates down and showing the lack of leadership that I normally try to provide.”

I don’t have a lot to add to this. Obviously, Manny made a decision that had a very negative impact on the team, and that is certainly disappointing. He has owned up to his mistakes, however, and I trust that John Beilein and the team have ironed things out. Since we still have no details as to what actually happened, it’s time to move forward with the knowledge that Beilein was able to handle this in-house. Even if Manny’s suspension may have cost the team a victory at Purdue, I trust that Beilein really was doing what was best for the team, and Manny himself, with the suspension. Let’s move on.

In other basketball-related news, current Michigan slot receiver and former point guard Kelvin Grady has rejoined the basketball team. Grady will contribute as a scout-team guard, and is already imitating MSU’s Kalin Lucas in preparation for tomorrow night’s game. He will make a decision at the end of the season about whether he will permanently stay with the basketball team, but Beilein said that football will remain Grady’s main athletic focus at Michigan. Regardless of his role, it’s nice to see Grady back with the hoops squad, and Michigan needs all the help they can get depth-wise. Don’t expect Grady to have much of an impact during games this season, but it will be interesting to see what he can provide to the team as a practice player and as a potential contributor moving forward.

Zack Novak played well in Manny Harris' absence, but it was not enough to lift U-M to victory.

Zack Novak played well in Manny Harris' absence, but it was not enough to lift U-M to victory.

No matter who Michigan put out on the floor in West Lafayette, the Wolverines were going to have a lot of trouble upsetting Purdue on Saturday. When the news came down just a couple hours before tipoff that Manny Harris had been suspended for an undisclosed incident at practice, Michigan chances dwindled even further. What played out was not a surprise: DeShawn Sims continued his strong play for Michigan, scoring 21 points on 8-18 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds, but even with Zack Novak (16 points, 6-11 shooting, five rebounds) stepping up big, the Wolverines could not find the offensive production to keep up with Purdue, who walked away with a ten-point victory that could’ve been even worse.

The local news sites are reporting that Harris’ status for Tuesday’s Michigan State game will be determined later this afternoon, so I’ll hold off comment on that situation until more of the facts come to light. Instead, I’ll focus on the on-court issues.

Shooting has been Michigan’s Achilles heel for most of the season, but this team continues to find new, more frustrating ways to lose. This week, they pulled the “let’s suspend our best player, then shoot very well but turn the ball over like crazy” trick, which worked out really well if the goal was to cause my hairline to recede at a very accelerated pace. Besides the aforementioned Sims and Novak, nobody in a Michigan uniform could claim to have played well on the offensive end: Laval Lucas-Perry was the team’s third-leading scorer with seven points (on 2-2 shooting), but he turned the ball over three times.  Stu Douglass continued his brutally poor season with a two-point, four-turnover performance and a rough day on the defensive end. Darius Morris also chipped in four turnovers and missed six of his nine shots. Matt Vogrich was the only other player with a stat line that didn’t make me cringe, but four points on 2-3 shooting and two rebounds was not going to make up for the rest of the bunch.

Watching Michigan try to get into a rhythm on offense without Manny Harris was really tough to watch. We forget that, as well as being the team’s top scorer, Harris might just be the Wolverines’ best passer as well. He’s also the only player on the team that can consistently beat his man off the dribble, something which really opens up the offense when he’s playing well. Yes, there are flaws in Manny’s game, but watching the game on Saturday should squash any ill-formed arguments that this team plays better when he’s not on the floor. The rest of the guards just don’t have the ability to replace his production and what he brings to the team.

That said, Saturday’s game could be encouraging if Michigan is without Harris for any length of time. Despite playing a top-15 team on the road, without their best player, the Wolverines hung tough and managed to keep the game respectable. If they could have held on to the ball better, Michigan would have been in a position to really challenge Purdue. DeShawn Sims continues to make a strong push for first-team all-conference, and Zack Novak finally broke out of his shooting slump. There were some good signs here, even if you have to look hard to see them.

Unfortunately, it looks like Michigan will now officially be playing the role of potential spoiler: at 10-9, any tournament resume will probably be of the NIT variety. If Michigan loses Manny for any serious length of time, even the NIT may be a stretch. Let’s hope that isn’t the case.

For more postgame coverage, check out UMHoops and MGoBlog for their takes. I’ll be sure to post my thoughts on the Harris situation as soon as the details come out.