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A Thought No “Michigan Man” Wants To Contemplate Today

SO MUCH has been invested in the narrative that Jim Harbaugh is inevitably going to take Michigan to the football promised land, where Big Ten titles and playoff appearances are common place. Included as part of that narrative is the expectation that he’ll bring Michigan to at least parity with Ohio State and that MSU will be reduced to an afterthought.

What if it doesn’t happen, though? What if after all the investment of energy and hope and want-to, Michigan can’t get over the hump? There’s a school of thought that this is somehow the end for Michigan State, that this past weekend was the last time they’ll ever go into a game against a Harbaugh led Michigan team with a talent advantage. Based on the facts, though, why should anyone believe that some massive sea change is coming? Michigan State continues to recruit at its highest level in decades and shows no signs of slowing down. Mark Dantonio’s not going anywhere and it would seem to be unlikely that he suddenly loses his ability to both identify and develop talent. With Ohio State, you’re talking about a virtual guarantee of highly talented rosters and another head coach who’s shown an unquestioned ability to develop that talent over time.

Can Michigan get better? Of course, and I think they will. Thing is, that doesn’t mean the end result necessarily changes as a bottom line, even if the games are more competitive. What if Harbaugh’s Michigan is just a good program which only occasionally proves capable of winning a division, never mind all the rest? What if, God forbid, he can’t even pull THAT off? What then for the psyche of the Worst Fanbase In America?

Nothing’s guaranteed in life. This is particularly so when the competition is fierce and the other guys can match you on every level that matters. What happens to Michigan Man then, when his messiah proves false? Can Michigan Man keep on living? Does he have to give up watching sport entirely, as so many of them wailed on Saturday night? I don’t think those folks want to think very deeply about questions like these but they should.

The Change in the Game

Today’s game, which, dominated by rules changes, requires, according to statistical analysis (e.g., analytics), to optimize three-point gains. Now, there are two ways to do so: drive the basket or shoot the three, or both.

In the title game, Duke drove and scored from the free throw line. Wisky could not drive much, so they, unsuccessfully, resorted to threes. Their threes were often not the result of a collapsing defense, and the nation’s best offense became mediocre.

After the game, Coach K said he credited Grayson Allen for his drives. He then said “We just ran high screens for Tyus Jones and let him do his stuff.”  After the MSU game, Coach Izzo said they cannot play defense anymore the way they used to, so he was going to find some players who can just drive the ball. Both of these coaches are “abandoning” their old styles.

The premier analytic optimizing team in the pros is Houston. Golden State deserves mentions. Both are built for a new offense (and Golden State has optimized defensive strategies to counter analytics: bigs to clog and block). I think as follows:

  1. Houston: The NBA’s version of isolation and drive/kick still working. I’m not saying this can’t work, but it is really only effective if you have a MVP level candidate like James Harden. Of course, someone that talented could operate in any kind of offense. I’m not Triangle expert, but Phil Jackson made a career out of spacing everyone out (according to his principles) and isolating the best offensive talent in the game. First with Jordan; then with Kobe. It was a natural mismatch every time that forced the D to adjust.

Again, if you have a top 3 talented guard, there’s nothing wrong with that approach. It’s not the way the game is going. That’s always been an option if you have the talent.

It doesn’t make it optimal, either. See the Knicks, Charlotte, Indy last year when Stephenson was the lead guard in some rotations, and a half-dozen other flailing teams still running isolation stuff.

  1. Golden State: They are the best example of Iso – sets vs. San Antonio-style modified motion-principals stuff in the NBA today. Switching from Mark Jackson’s slower iso half court offense to Kerr’s faster and more dynamic offense has transformed them from a middling offensive team into a great one. They’re still excellent at defense. They’ve done that by giving players proper roles and creating better shots for their best shooters. Their points at the rim are up, too. Their passes per possession are waaaayy up. They still ball-screen. Curry is too good not, too. If the defense shifts to stop him, they get a lot of action by dumping the ball and then reversing for a shot. They get a lot of secondary action with off-the ball screening.
  2. San Antonio and Atlanta. Lots of ball screens for Parker/Teague to shift the defense and then move the ball around to guys who are spaced well. Also, lots of off the ball screening to get a shooter (Korver, specifically) open or let a big slip when the D over-commits.
  3. Memphis. Proving that match-ups can win games. In an era when a lot of teams are going smaller, they are making teams pay with two punishing low post players and solid defense. They don’t shoot 3’s particularly well. Again, take Harden, Westbrook, Lebron…run whatever offense you want. It will have some measure of success. How do you get more offense with less talented players should be the question? Shifting to college…
  4. Colleges don’t run the more complicated stuff above, because the players aren’t talented enough. The high ball screen is used in college to often by poor teams only to free some space for so the guard can create for himself. It’s beyond ugly. There is a dearth in talent in  today’s college game. There’s also a lack of coaching talent. That is why scores are down. It’s probably not much coincidence that last night’s title game featured the two best offensive bigs in the game.
  5. Coach K has altered his style of play. He’s dumbed it down (Bilas used “simplified”, but you get the gist..). He’s done so he can get more talent and get more out of them as freshman. The one-and-done era has shifted college ball. If you want to get talented freshman on the floor for the athletic advantage, you have to simplify. I love Coach K, partly because he is always adapting–unlike his mentor.
  6. So for IU… should they run a simple, iso-oriented drive and kick? Yes, if you believe they can out recruit the Dukes, UK’s and UNC’s of the collegiate world. I believe IU’s competitive advantages are elsewhere. IU has a natural advantage in picking enough talent to compete with the elite, but IU will never win the talent aggregation race. IU must continue to recruit talented and smart players who are likely to stick around for a 2+ years (Zeller, Yogi, Blackmon, etc..). Then IU must out execute the other team, both offensively and defensively.

If you want to run a system that begins with a high ball screen, that is fine. But it can’t consist of the guard either driving or shooting a 3. It has to go beyond that. The other players must serve a role. If the big setting the screen can’t shoot or pass, then that style of offense isn’t real effective. Today’s lackluster college game should make that pretty apparent. So, what should the next level of college coach do?

In the title game, Josh Gasser, a key player for Wisconsin, only took, and missed, one shot. Scoring is suffering. Between 1990 and 1999, the winning team in the championship game scored 75 or more points 10 times. Next decade? 8 times. This decade? So far, once. So goes basketball. Drive the ball, so first set up high screens. It has become a game of sets rather than five-player offense. Even Bo Ryan this year abandoned much flex principles for setting up match-ups with a form of a clear out. And while the sets and match-ups are being “assembled,” the game ticks away. NCAA basketball has become a slow game: players posting on the interior and on the three and waiting. Team movement doesn’t pay in points the way drives and 3’s do.

What is the reaction to this trend?

Should the NCAA/Big Ten expand to Canada?

Carleton University has won 13 of the last 16 Canadian collegiate championships. They haven’t lost a game since 2015-16. It’s a dynasty that, in its own world, makes Wooden-era UCLA look like Pikers.

Well, you might say, big deal…it’s Canada. The level of college basketball up there certainly would leave something to be desired. Overall, that’s certainly a fair statement. However, this whole story (one I was unaware of previously) got my attention because of these scores over the past few days from American college teams playing them on a summer tour of Canada:

Carleton 113 South Dakota State 51 – SDSU has Mike Daum, a likely NBA draft pick next year and a truly elite PF. They have made the NCAA Tournament three straight seasons and five times since 2012.

Carleton 81 Ole Miss 63 – Ole Miss is operating under a new coach, Kermit Davis (you remember him, right? Middle Tennessee), so they’re going through a transition period. Still, an SEC team losing by 18 points?

Carleton 86 Cincinnati 67 – Cincy was 31-5 last year. Now, they did lose 3 starters from that team but expectations are still high for this coming season.

Lest you think that’s a one year fluke, Carleton beat Alabama, Providence and Vandy last year. They also beat WIsconsin during one of their Final Four seasons a few years back.

Their entire roster this year is comprised of Canadians, though some of them have transferred in after starting out at American schools (they have one guard who transferred in this year, for example, from UTEP after averaging almost 10 ppg last season).


M in trouble around shoe resale by players?…warn-others-wake-ncaa-violations-shoe-resales

UNC just suspended 13 football players for doing this.

Article does not clarify which sport is potentially impacted.

Seeing some talk around the Internet that it may involve “double digit” number of M athletes between both football and basketball. No names yet, obviously,

Interestingly, Marquette has already released a statement saying that no “current players” have sold shoes and thus they feel safe in declaring they’re in the clear. Notice what that doesn’t say…”past players.”

Mike Davis with an interesting staff at UD

Tracy Dildy, former head coach at Chicago State and I believe worked for Davis as an assistant at UAB (also assistant at places like DePaul, Auburn and Ole Miss). Chicago guy.

Rod Strickland – Longtime NBA player. Was in an administrative role under Cal at Memphis and worked at USF as an assistant for 3 years.

Also hiring Mike Davis Jr.

On paper, at least, it would appear to be a staff with some recruiting chops. Nothing in terms of local background, though, which makes me wonder if UD is going to continue to cede Michigan kids at their level to Oakland and go a bit more national in scope.

Isaac Parades – Tigers SS prospect at Erie

Just got promoted to AA Erie. In his first 4 games, he’s hitting a cool .455 with 3 RBI.

His numbers at high A Lakeland take a little bit of drilling down to appreciate. He hit “only” .259 but had 12 homers and 48 RBI in 84 games and had an OPS of .793. Now, that looks OK but the thing you have to remember is that he’s a 19 year old playing against guys 22-23 on average at High A. It’s a tick older than that now that he’s in AA. He’s the first teenager to hit double digit homers over a *season* in the FSL (notoriously a pitcher’s league) since Giancarlo Stanton and the more forgettable Matt Dominguez did it in 2009. He hit .305 in June and .310 in the month of July before the promotion, so the overall hitting numbers don’t really tell the full story of where he was at.

The long and short of it is that his bat is clearly very advanced, as had been thought when they acquired him from the Cubs in the Justin Wilson/Alex Avila deal which also brought over Candalerio. Candy’s been scuffling mightily over the past 6 weeks or so but I think most still believe he’ll be a quality bat and respectable third baseman over the long haul…but Parades may end up as the biggest get in that trade. The big question is, at what position? He’s already at a point that they say he’ll have to slim down if he’s going to stay at SS, with a move to 3B, 2B or even corner OF likely if that doesn’t happen. He’s apparently got good hands, arm and feel but range is limited…and you figure at 19 there’s a chance he fills out more just as much as him slimming down.

Lynn Henning has a good piece on him today.…ers-farm-sensation-body-work-ahead/816072002/

Can Chris Holtmann make OSU Elite Again?

There’s never a good excuse for OSU not being very good, and yet during my lifetime they’ve been maddeningly inconsistent. Matta gave them the best sustained run since Fred Taylor in the early 60s but then the bottom fell out over his last two years. Guys like Randy Ayers and Jim O’Brien and Eldon MIller had flashes in the pan but couldn’t sustain high level success for various reasons.

They’re the only Big Ten school in the state, something MSU, M, Purdue and IU don’t benefit from. That alone should make them a consistent contender but for different reasons over the years, it’s been spotty.

I think Holtmann will do a good job. He’s recruiting well and showed last year and at Butler that he can teach and get a team to buy into what he wants to do. “Elite?” That’s a tall order for anybody. Need to win multiple conference titles, make multiple Final Fours, etc. to get into that discussion. I’m high on him but I don’t think you can view that as a done deal.

To no one’s surprise, KU has (tacitly) acknowledged it too has received a subpoena from the Feds…deral-basketball-investigation-142515144.html

Two players appear to be the focus. One I talked about the other day in connection to Maryland…Silvio DeSousa. The other is Billy Preston, who never played last season for KU after he got in an accident and the NCAA began to investigate how he came to have the automobile involved (shades of the famed Maurice Taylor rollover).

Maryland has FBI troubles – two subpoenas served relating to CBB case

The first relates to Diamond Stone, who apparently received a $14,000 payment from Andy Miller’s office. Miller, to reset for those who may not remember, is the agent who employed Christian Dawkins as a runner.

The second is more interesting and newsy, as the Stone stuff had been anticipated. Apparently UA made a $20,000 payment to Silvio DeSousa, who ended up at Kansas after having long been considered a lock to go to Maryland. DeSousa’s guardian apparently asked KU and Adidas for $20K to repay UA to ensure his commitment to Maryland. So, interesting that A. a payment was made by UA. B. KU (and Adidas) were involved in repaying that payment and C. DeSousa’s guardian is also the guardian of current Terp Bruno Fernando.

Bron to the Lakers on a 4 year deal

Would be very interesting to see the Lakers add Cousins along with Leonard, as has been rumored.

Lakers would likely be cutting against the current grain, trying to win with a frontcourt dominated team as opposed to perimeter players. I’m reasonably convinced that at some point, the pendulum will swing back to big men (the right big men, of course) being used to exploit inefficiencies and weaknesses of the small ball approach. Whether that group would be the one to successfully do it is anyone’s guess.

Former MSU target Brandon McCoy undrafted

Signed a FA deal with the Bucks.

As much as anything, it was reflective of the NBA’s shift away from the traditional center. McCoy showed no signs of a perimeter game and his defense in space was seen as highly questionable. That’s enough to leave you undrafted today. Remember, this is a guy who was borderline Top 10 nationally in his class just one year ago.

73 games in and the Tigers are 1 under .500

Unless there’s a massive fire sale at the deadline (and there might be) and possibly even if there is one, all of that 100 loss talk has left the building. Won another one today to sweep Chicago on the road (Chicago being one part of why I thought 100 loss talk was over the top to begin with…said it in April, someone has to win these games and it turns out “someone” is Detroit), get to within one of the break even mark and stay 2.5 back of a disappointing Cleveland team.

Now, I’m not even remotely ready to suggest that I think they’re *really* in the division race but that’s not so much about them as it is Cleveland having enough starting pitching and offense that, if their bullpen ever gets halfway to decent, could do something like they did last year and win 19 or 20 in a row. However, we’re just about at the halfway mark now and that’s a point I think you can begin to judge a team, and judgement re: the Tigers is that they’re far more competitive than even optimists could have imagined. They’re doing it with better than anticipated starting pitching, a reasonably good back end of the pen (including a lights out 8th inning guy), respectable defense overall and enough hitting and run manufacturing to overcome a lineup that’s hit only about half as many HRs as the league leading Yankees (and is tied for last in the AL with KC).

How long can they keep it up? I suspect the answer lies with the rotation. Fulmer is showing signs of seriously righting the ship, and I think it’s reasonable to think he’ll have a better second half than he did a first. Can Liriano stay healthy and keep up his level? Fiers? Can Zimmermann give them anything? Is Boyd for real? Hardy? I think this is the area overall primed for the most regression if for no other reason than I think Liriano for sure and maybe Fiers could find themselves dealt. I’m really encouraged by Boyd, though. He’s 27 this year, so it wouldn’t be the first time a guy started to put it all together at that age. He can’t get by on stuff alone but I really think he’s shown signs of having learned how to make the stuff he does have work for him via location, pitch sequence and command. If the Tigers get another good half of pitching from Boyd and Fulmer keeps that ERA of his heading south, I almost don’t care whatever else happens with their starters, because those are the guys who could still be part of this thing when they’re ready to really contend again…or who would have significant value in a trade.

Trade deadline is about 6 weeks away (the non waiver version, that is). These would be the most likely guys to get dealt in approximate order, IMO:

1. Liriano (if healthy…we’ll find out starting this week, I think)

2. Greene (if anyone’s closer gets hurt, he’ll be immediately discussed and I think contenders will look at him as a great 7th or 8th inning option as well)

3. Martin – I don’t think you’d get a major piece back for him but he’s definitely got value and maybe you get lucky as the Tigers appear to with say the Candelario (and Paredes) deal last year. Martin is at 257/325 but has shown power with 9 homers (not a fluke…he’s hit the ball hard most of the year), very good speed and really, really strong defense in CF. Plus, he’s not a rental…a team acquiring him would have to deal with arbitration but could retain him for 2019.

4. Iglesias – Quietly having a really nice year after a rough start. It’s funny…analytics people seemed to feel his defense was overrated in earlier years but from what I’ve seen, he’s checking out very well defensively under any system this season. The bat is what it is…no power, not many walks, and mid .200s in BA. He is showing more on the basepaths this year than he previously has, though. He’s a FA so you’re not likely to get more than a lottery ticket back for him, but when it’s that versus nothing at the end of the year, I think you try to get that ticket.

5. Fiers – If injuries hit some contenders, he could be a guy teams look at as an option. I look at him as a poor man’s Doug Fister during his good years in Detroit…it’s all about location and command, with a fastball topping out at 90. He’s pitched in pennant races and has a wealth of experience to rely on. I’d lean toward him being slightly higher than a 50% chance to be dealt, especially if he keeps up recent solid performances.

6. Castellanos – This is the big one. I’ve got it here because I don’t think they’re going to get a package offered which will tempt Detroit to make the deal, but you never know. He’s having a really nice year with the bat, but I look at what JD Martinez produced last season in a deal and it’s not encouraging (you seem to get more now as always for pitching). The difference is that Nick isn’t a rental, and maybe that will matter.

7. Fulmer – Same as Nick except even tougher to deal. I think if the Tigers put him on the market they would get strong offers, maybe very strong ones. WIth both of these guys, they’re going to have to think through whether they see them as guys who will come through the rebuild or guys who can get pieces who will. Avila said as much today before the game.

Speaking of which, if you didn’t see it, Avila had some interesting things to say overall on the organization.

– They’re not going to look to add any pieces, even if they remain in contention. That’s absolutely, 100% the right move, no question. That includes first basemen…they’re going to give John Hicks the every day job and that’s smart move as well IMO. He’s hit well enough to justify it and given that they could retain him for four more years, there’s no reason to not play him as much as possible and see what you have. I wasn’t high on him at the beginning of the year but more and more he’s striking me as a really nice bench piece on a good team, with the ability to catch and play 1B. Might as well find out if his first half is sustainable at the plate.

– Casey Mize IS going to pitch some in the minors this year, likely at Lakeland. Some thought he would be shelved the way Faedo was last year, but I think Auburn going out before the CWS made that decision easier.

– Looks like Beau Burrows will soon be heading to Toledo and Faedo to replace him at Erie. Sounds like it could happen very soon. Burrows has been really good, though his Ks have been down (I’ve seen speculation that it’s in part because he’s been working on secondary pitches and not just looking to blow guys away with his FB the way he did last year). Faedo has also pitched well though his velocity has been down. Avila did not sound overly concerned and they are apparently promoting him, so we’ll see how that goes.

– Franklin Perez, the centerpiece of the Verlander deal, appears likely to finally make his Tigers debut at the end of this month in Erie. That’s going to be an important two months for him. If he stays healthy and pitches the way he did in the Astros organization, I think Detroit might have two guys in he and Burrows pushing for rotation spots next spring…they’d at least be in the conversation.

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