Weekend Recap: Graham & Hoops Dominate, Hockey Splits

Brandon Graham took home Senior Bowl MVP honors with two sacks and a forced fumble.

The normal basketball recap will be a bit abbreviated today, because, in the interest of full disclosure, my friends and I left the game with about ten minutes left when it was clear that Iowa had attempted to sneak a D-II team into Crisler Arena dressed as the Hawkeye basketball team. Instead, I’ll give my thoughts on an interesting weekend of Michigan sports.

After a week of practices that turned a lot of heads in the NFL, Brandon Graham earned MVP honors in the Senior Bowl with five tackles, two sacks, one TFL and a forced fumble. The week began with Graham projected as a late first/early second-round NFL draft pick, but his outstanding week has almost certainly solidified him as a first-round pick and one of the top defensive players available. I think Graham had to overcome the (patently false) perception that he was a decent player on a bad defense, and he exceeded the expectations of everyone who hadn’t seen him play at Michigan to show that he is, simply, a great football player. The only thing holding Graham back is his size — at 6’1, 263 pounds, Graham could be either an undersized 4-3 defensive end or a big, pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker. Personally, I think his future is with his hand on the ground, but a lot depends on what team grabs him in the draft. Either way, Graham showed this week that he is one of the elite prospects in the draft this season.

Yeah, the Iowa game was about that easy.

In basketball, Michigan beat Iowa 60-46 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate. I’m really not sure how much can be taken away from this one — Iowa is now 2-7 in the Big Ten, with their wins coming against Penn State (winless in conference play) and Indiana (3-5). Michigan scored the game’s first 13 points, held Iowa scoreless for nearly seven minutes, and kept the Hawkeyes without a field goal until almost ten minutes had elapsed. We spent half the game joking that Iowa guard John Lickliter — son of head coach Todd Lickliter — looked like he had been given his spot on the team as a Bar Mitzvah gift. It was one of those games.

DeShawn Sims carried the scoring load early, and finished with 20 points (on 9-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds (including nine offensive boards), as nobody on the Hawkeyes could really check him on the block. Manny Harris also finished with 20 points, but that number is deceiving — most of his points came in the second half, and he shot only 6-16 from the field and turned the ball over six times.

Other than that, it was your standard performance on offense from the Wolverines: nobody else finished with more than six points (Douglass and Novak), the team shot poorly (36.2% from the field, 26.9% from three) but came up with a lot of their own misses (15 offensive rebounds out of 27 missed shots), and the only consistent offense came when Harris and Sims were creating for themselves. Michigan dominated on the defensive end, however, holding Iowa to just 17-55 shooting and allowing just nine offensive rebounds, which allowed the Wolverines to rout the Hawkeyes.

One final thought on the game: Zack Novak was in foul trouble for most of the game, finishing with four fouls, and when he was replaced by Anthony Wright it really showed on both ends of the floor. On offense, Novak gets his hand on seemingly every miss that comes into his area, and even if he doesn’t pull down the offensive rebound he makes the defense work to get the ball back. Wright tends to hang out by the three-point line and occasionally throw up a brick. On defense, Novak has solid positioning and displays the same tenacity that makes him a great offensive rebounder for his size. Wright appeared lost on defense and doesn’t rebound as well as Novak despite a considerable height advantage. In short, let’s hope Novak stays out of foul trouble from now on — this team can’t afford losing him against a competent opponent.

I was actually able to catch both hockey games against MSU, as this was the rare weekend when both Michigan hockey games were televised. Michigan salvaged a split, losing 3-2 on Friday at Munn and taking a wild 5-4 decision Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena, but the team was robbed of a chance for a sweep thanks to a very untimely whistle in the opener (from TBTYB):

So now Michigan has a man-advantage with just over two minutes to go and a chance to pull off a huge comeback on the road. Just after the penalty expired, Chris Brown was standing in the slot. The puck hit him and bounced down, through the legs of Drew Palmisano, and into the net. Like, straight through the legs of Palmisano. We’re not talking pinballing. We’re not talking the puck died between his legs but was still loose and someone jammed it in. It hit Chris Brown, bounced down, went right through Palmisano into the net.

Shegos somehow missed this and blew the play dead within milliseconds of the puck going underneath Palmisano. The whistle may not have gone until the puck was in the net (I’m not sure), but thanks to the most retarded rule in sports–the play is dead when it’s dead in the referee’s mind, not when he blows the whistle–you can’t review it.

That’s a missed call. You can see from the behind-the-net cam that the puck was never even remotely covered. And the guy who is widely considered the best ref in the conference–as if that’s not like saying someone is the prettiest ugly girl (by the way, there were options in the crowd tonight….for as many good-looking girls as there are supposed to be at Michigan State, they must have found every fug in the bunch during the crowd shots tonight….holy buckets)–completely blew it.

The same “intent to whistle” bull has cost the Red Wings a couple games this season as well, so sadly I wasn’t even remotely surprised when the goal was waived off. It was a terrible call, and I don’t want to exonerate Shegos in any way, but that rule is a black eye for hockey at every level it’s enforced — one of these day someone is going to get sick of answering angry emails and actually change the damn thing, and I hope that day comes as soon as possible. The controversy of the third period overshadowed a completely lackluster effort from the Wolverines — they couldn’t get any sort of offensive rush into the zone or set up a power play until the game was nearly out of reach. The goal that put MSU up 3-0 was vintage Bryan Hogan of the worst kind, a juicy rebound on a routine shot that was hammered home by (argh) Corey Tropp.

Saturday’s game was just crazy. Michigan appeared to put the game out of reach with three goals in the first period — A.J. Treais drove the net hard and knocked home a rebound to get the first goal, Chris Summers netted a laser from the point for the second, and Brian Lebler’s wrister gave Michigan a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

Then State scored four unanswered goals. Michigan gave up an inexcusable shorthanded tally at the beginning of the second period, and Hogan allowed another rebound goal halfway through the period to cut the lead to one. State tied the game up just 50 seconds into the third period, and I think I speak for all Michigan fans when I say that I was resigned to a loss at that point. When Dean Chelios netted the go-ahead goal with a little under seven minutes to go, I almost shut off the TV. When Michigan took a penalty shortly afterward, I almost threw the remote through the TV, which probably would have been an effective way of permanently shutting it off.

Good thing I didn’t. On a seemingly innocuous play in the Spartan zone, Carl Hagelin made a great effort to force a turnover and took two shots on Drew Palmisano. The second shot bounced off to the side, where Matt Rust was able to hammer home the rebound. Just two minutes later, Chris Brown refused to budge from the side of the net, and whacked home the game-winner past both Palmisano and a Spartan defenseman on a great, gritty play.

This weekend’s series was a microcosm of the season for Michigan: very inconsistent play, a lot of chances, some soft goals allowed, and a weekend split. The Wolverines now are in great danger of missing the NCAA Tournament — Brian thinks Michigan probably needs to win eight of nine (or, of course, take the CCHA Tournament) to get a spot in the tourney. With Michigan’s shaky goaltending situation, I don’t really see that happening.


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