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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?


I’m not one to take a ton from early indicators but…the annual individual photos of the players in their uniforms are starting to trickle out. So one thing you can see is physical development from their final year in HS.

It won’t ever be a huge factor for Loyer but he does look as if he’s gotten a little bigger (not taller). He’ll be fine.

Henry is ready to go. I think he’ll be physically capable from Day One in terms of what MSU asks of him. Not that he likely won’t go through some learning curve but he should be capable of handling the Big Ten grind from a physical perspective and it looks to me as if he’s tightened things up a little bit. Not surprising at all.

Kithier…I don’t think anything physical will hold him back. It’s more about shaking rust off. Also looks like he’s tightened it up a bit to my eyes, though not getting to see him in anything except street clothes on the Clarkston bench last year makes it tough to know for certain.

Brown and Bingham are/were the big ones, though, because both guys have high ceilings but needed serious physical development. To my eyes, Gabe’s made a little more progress than Marcus thus far. Neither has gone through the Jaren Jackson Jr. Miracle Grow offseason, but there’s positive development. Gabe’s also got a little easier row to hoe in a sense, because he’ll be playing on the perimeter.

Bingham has NBA potential, no question about it. However, I’m going to put it out there now that he’ll play less than many are probably hoping for, due in large part to the remaining work he has to do physically. It’s not an easy or automatic thing for guys to gain good weight. I can recall even a great player like Steve Smith and a good one like David Thomas struggling to do it while at MSU. I think he’ll likely have a rotation role this season due to his length, athletic ability and his shot but I don’t see anything close to Deyonta or Jaren type minutes. I look at the photos and imagine him trying to deal with Juwan Morgan or Tyler Cook on the blocks and…yeah, it’s going to take a minute.

If you told me now MSU could get 12-15 good minutes a night from Marcus I’d take it and run.

Valenti breaks the Michigan psyche (This your life now)


In M’s case, according to the expectations they’ve set for their own program, the ND game broke their season and sorta did exactly that. I guess technically it didn’t end the season, because if they win EVERY game from here they would make the playoffs…but that’s the problem. I feel as if some are measuring them by the standards they *should* be measured, which is essentially a 7-5 team over the last decade.

That’s not what THEY think they are, though. Better still, that’s not what they hired Harbaugh to be. In year four of his tenure, anything less than a division title can’t come remotely close to meeting expectations. The guy hasn’t finished higher than 3rd to date. Honestly, if we went back to the euphoria around the day he was hired, I think it would be virtually unanimous agreement among the Wolvie faithful that no playoff berth by the end of year four was unthinkable. This guy was supposed to be the best coach in football. Not the Big Ten East. Not the Big Ten. Not college football. FOOTBALL, period, at all levels. 

If that’s the standard, and that’s what Michigan and its fan and alum base has told us it is, they’ve already failed miserably. No way around that.

Where do you turn when your saviour fails, Michigan?

I remember posting that question here when they hired him, because at that point MSU and Ohio State were both rolling. It seemed reasonable to me that Harbaugh could even do a good job and not win the division very often. In the interim, Penn State has rejoined that conversation as well, so the job is even tougher than it appeared in late 2014.

That moment has officially arrived tonight, I think. What direction can that program and fanbase turn to when the “messiah” is false? It’s a classic example of “be careful what you wish for” because they got the guy they dreamed about and most never believed they could get…and it’s been an abject failure by their own self imposed standards.


1. Receivers – As good as advertised. How many tough catches did they make tonight. Tremendous concentration, hands and *strength*

2. Lewerke in the clutch – Certainly not his best game but I have the same feeling with him in tight situations I had with Cook…just feel like he’s going to make the plays you need to win the game if it’s close. Those two options, both the one that scored and the one that was called back, were run to perfection.

3. Bachie – The deflection AND the pick to seal it. Again, you just kind of come to expect it from that guy.

4. Kickoffs – Pretty nice, especially considering that we were hearing about some concerns on that front in the spring and fall.

5. Heyward – Not huge numbers but man, does he run tough and decisively. I think he looks to pretty clearly give MSU a really nice #2 option at TB.

6. Willekes – Really the only semi-consistent pressure MSU got all night was from him.

Lots and lots of things to work on and improve, no question. OLine really struggled but I need to see Chewins before I start to get really worried. Penalties were a disaster. Always tough to judge pass defense against a team that plays this style but it didn’t seem to me we were anywhere near where it needs to be.

NCAA Clears MSU Athletics of Any Wrong-Doing in Nassar Scandal

The ESPN headline (and it is on the front page link) is nice, but the article takes shots by offering quotes from the ESPN OTL sources indicating that they were either not contacted by the NCAA for the investigation or that they complained to MSU and the NCAA and didn’t receive feedback.

It puts forth the NCAA conclusion and then offers quotes to discount the conclusion.

If we are being honest though, I think the NCAA hurdle, in terms of clearing an investigation, is much lower than the other investigations (OCR, DOE, MI AG, etc.) because it’s dealing with something very different…merely the violation or lack thereof of NCAA rules. That’s not was at work in the Nassar case which has now been settled…those are legal standards in play, and wrt the other investigations we’re talking about statutory issues, not NCAA regs.

I read the ESPN piece. It’s not surprising to me that they didn’t talk to the people they apparently opted to omit. As for Allswede…well, we know where she’s at, has been at, and will be at. So again, no surprise.

I’ll also add this…everyone’s least favorite BOT member responded to the question way, way back about the NCAA getting involved as laughable, and he was pilloried for it.

Looks like he had that just about right.

Michigan loses again in Spain

This time to Jovenut, a team playing in the highest rung of the Spanish professional league, 85-79.

Good experience for them. I expect M to be the consensus pick for #2 in the conference behind Michigan State.

Tough to draw many conclusions from what they did over there. They faced some good competition without Beilein. Didn’t play well offensively at all, which (to the probable surprise of many) was something of a rerun of last season…that was not a great offensive team. Yet, they were facing professionals. From what I can gather, the opposition they played was a tick below what MSU faced in Italy three years ago, when they played the national teams from Russia and Georgia along with a second tier Italian team.

If you’re looking for positives, the Canadian freshman forward was right at the top of their scoring chart. Matthews seemed to put up good numbers. Negatives would be that they got nothing from any of the other freshmen (and they’re going to need Johns at least, and probably more than just him, to step up next season in a big way) and Simpson didn’t show signs of any real improvement offensively.



News and Notes from 08.23.18

01. Michigan continues to struggle in its Euro tour…loses to Serb team Mega Bemax 81-73. For reference, that same Mega Bemax team was beaten by Kentucky about 2 weeks ago by 36.

Interestingly, Brandon Johns apparently played sparingly and David DeJulius not at all.

This is all semi-interesting fodder for discussion right now but I am expecting M to once again get out of the gate slowly as John Beilein is going to have to blend in a lot of new faces and guys in new roles. Really, only Matthews and Simpson will be doing anything close to what they were asked to last year. I still expect them to be a Big Ten title contender but I won’t be surprised at all if their season looks something like the last two have, at least in terms of a slow start and improvement as the season progresses.

02. Big news…RPI is finally dead. Is that good or bad?

NCAA eliminates RPI, develops new metric for tournament selection

Whether this is good news or bad news (or “new boss, same as the old boss”) depends largely upon what systems the NCAA is using for all of those measurements. For example is “efficiency” going to be measured in the way that say Ken Pomeroy measures it? If so, I’d feel pretty good about that. I also like the idea of capping the impact of scoring margin at 10 points per game…means you gain nothing from scheduling weak sisters except for playing time for your deep reserves.

So, we’ll see how it all plays out but my guess is that on balance, this is a positive step.


Friday Mcmurphy “Hammer”: OSU

Here’s the deal…for me, this isn’t really about Urban Meyer or Tom Izzo or Mark Dantonio or any other athletic figure in isolation. It’s about what we do as a society, because this goes WAAAAAYYYYYY beyond college athletics. Yeah, it’s up to the reader to decide what that individual thinks but that honestly couldn’t possibly mean less to me. What DOES matter is what standards we apply in terms of culpability, people losing their jobs, their reputations, their freedom. THAT matters. If the Smith case is indicative of anything, IMO it is that often in these circumstances things are murky, muddled, unclear and that there can be at least (and sometimes more than) 2 sides. That reality has been used as a justification of sorts for the types of enforcement we’ve seen from universities in Title IX cases in recent years. I think that’s a horrendously wrongheaded direction to go in myself, because what it in essence says is that we remove due process as a consideration in instances where it’s just too difficult to produce evidence. Sorry…can’t get with that, ever, no matter what. I have no idea whether Smith is an abuser or not. I have no idea whether his choosing to live aspects of his life on the sexual edge indicates much of anything beyond just that. That’s why we require evidence, REAL evidence, not supposition, innuendo and disconnected suggestion.

Then we turn to the ritualized seppuku that now seemingly must apply to anyone in a position of authority when something goes horribly wrong on their watch. It’s “buck stops here” gone amok in my view and btw, it solves NOTHING. Did Urban Meyer know about abuse? If so, I have no problem with his being canned. Beyond that? “Enabling?” I don’t know and I damn sure have no idea how anyone is supposed to apply and regulate a standard, which, sorry to tell you is what you NEED to do if we’re at least pretending to live in a society of laws.

We really, desperately need to mature as a society in regard to these matters. Right now, we’re failing miserably on all sides, on all counts.

Tiger Talk – Deatherage and Clemens both promoted to Lakeland

That’s a big deal, for two guys just drafted in June and not as first rounders to already be at high A. They’ll only have 16 games to play there before the season ends, so not out of the question that they could each start there next year but this is definitely a best case scenario for Detroit with those two guys.

So far, on the year they’ve posted the following numbers:

Deatherage (2 games in Gulf Coast League and 46 at West Michigan Low A) as an outfielder

.324/.380/.514 6 homers 25 RBI 15 walks 51 Ks in 185 ABs 15 steals with 3 CS.

Clemens (41 games at Low A West Michigan) as a second baseman

.302/.387/.477 4 homers 17 RBI 21 walks 27 Ks in 149 ABs 3steals with 1 CS.

Also, Parker Meadows, the Tigers’ second round pick as an OF, got promoted to Connecticut after playing in the Gulf Coast League. Here’s what he’s done so far in 22 games and 74 ABs

.284/.376/.500 4 homers 8 RBI 8 walks and 25 Ks 3steals with 1 CS

He’s seen as a potential CF option.

All of these guys playing well as position players is a big positive. You never know how they’ll react to the move up in level but it’s encouraging to me. With Deatherage and Clemens it’s a bigger deal IMO because both are college guys, so you want them on a faster track. Meadows is 18, so he’s got more time.




Hearing That MSU in Really Good Shape With Drew Timme

Spoke to a guy in the Metroplex yesterday, says Izzo has gone full blast after Timme and MSU in great shape right now with him.

Just on the surface, Gonzaga, MSU and Purdue make a lot of sense for him. All have traditions of utilization of big men (programs and the current coaches). All have had big men who were asked and allowed to do a lot of different things on the court. All play at a high level and usually have great opportunities to win a lot of games.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he could play alongside Carey or Stewart (or TJD). This isn’t a four guys for one spot situation IMO. In fact, I’m now thinking MSU ideally wants two big men.

Everyone focuses on playing smaller to take advantage of the ability of a “stretch 4″ to shoot and in someinstances go off the dribble. If you can get a 6’10” kid who has that ability, as Timme does…man, that’s a big, big problem for opposing teams to deal with.

I’ll also make a quick prediction…whichever school gets him will have a fan favorite in terms of their ownfanbase and a guy who inspires a lot of ire on the road. I mean a LOT, because of the way he plays and his general attitude on the court. Hustle, motor, skill and a willingness to get vocal usually inspires those types of feelings both ways, depending upon whose jersey he’s wearing.


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