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We Work: A look back at Michigan’s run to the outright Big Ten title

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Michigan at Illinois(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Speaking to about 50 members of the University of Michigan’s student section, the Maize Rage, prior to the team’s annual open pratctice on Oct. 21, head coach John Beilein didn’t sugarcoat Michigan’s chances for the upcoming season.

“I like where our team is at this point in the year, but obviously it’s hard to replace two guys like Trey (Burke) and Tim (Hardaway Jr.),” Beilein said. “So we need to see how our players respond and how the freshman fit in.”

Practice proceded much like it had in the previous few years: The projected starters scrimmaged the bench players, assistant coach Bacari Alexander screamed at Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan told the students how important we are and thanked us for supporting the team.

That quiet Monday night revealed so little of a team that, in the following four months, has done nothing but make noise during a roller coaster ride of a 2013-14 season.

Zak Irvin's three-point shooting and Caris LeVert's emergence have fueled Michigan's championship run (

Zak Irvin’s three-point shooting and Caris LeVert’s emergence have helped make up for the production lost when Mitch McGary went down (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

Dreams of another magical non-conference slate crumbled in Ames, Iowa when Michigan fell for the first time in just its third game of the season. After starting 16-0 last season, the Wolverines had just suffered their earliest loss since the 2007-08 season when a loss to No. 5 Georgetown dropped them to 2-1.

Unfortunately for the youngest team in the Big Ten, the losing didn’t stop there. Michigan dropped three of its next seven games and fell to 6-4 on the season, surfacing an unthinkable question into the minds of Wolverine fans: Could the defending national runner-ups and preseason No. 7 team in the country miss the NCAA Tournament?

The biggest blow lay in the shadows until Dec. 27, when Michigan’s preseason All-American forward, McGary, announced his plans to have back surgery that would sideline him indefinitely. This news broke just days after Michigan fell out of the national rankings for the first time in more than a year.

With a difficult Big Ten schedule looming, the wounded Wolverines looked ready to crash and burn, but Beilein didn’t allow that to happen.

Michigan stormed back onto the national stage with a 10-game winning streak that included three straight wins over top ten opponents. The team’s first victory in the Breslin Center since Stu Douglass’ corner three pointer vaulted the Maize and Blue over its in-state rival three years ago placed the new-look Wolverines atop the Big Ten.

McGary’s injury seemingly re-energized veteran post players Morgan and Horford as the duo more than made up for the 6’10” hole in the middle of Michigan’s lineup. Together, the tandem that fans affectionately dubbed “Morford” solidified the Wolverines defensively and blended into an offense that requires little more than a few put-backs from its center position.

Meanwhile, a revolution developed in the backcourt.

Something clicked for freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. during the beginning of Big Ten play, and he evolved into a leader reminiscent of Trey Burke during his freshman campaign. His confidence skyrocketed after his complete domination of Keith Appling in East Lansing, and even veteran players like Horford acknowledged his leadership, saying he “not only knows what to say, but when to say it.”

Unlike Burke, Walton enjoyed the luxury of maturing in the shadows of emerging guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. Stauskas, who figures to become Michigan’s second straight Big Ten Player of the Year, leads his team in points and assists per game and possesses the same take-over-the-game mentality as Burke did on the big college stages.

Nik Stauskas' emergence into likely Big Ten Player of the Year and fringe NBA lottery pick helped Michigan move on from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Nik Stauskas’ emergence into likely Big Ten Player of the Year and fringe NBA lottery pick helped Michigan move on from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

LeVert, on the other hand, became Michigan’s most consistent and versatile player after contributing just 10.8 minutes per game to last season’s Final Four journey. The baby-faced sophomore more than tripled his minutes, points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and field goals this season.

Michigan twice surrendered its outright conference lead in the next five games when it fell to Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Both stints in second place were short-lived though, as Michigan State coughed up the lead within 24 hours of gaining it.

The Wolverines earned the inside track to the Big Ten championship with a sweep over the Spartans on Feb. 23, when an 11-point first half lead evaporated in the wake of Michigan’s offensive onslaught.

Days later, Glenn Robinson III’s bank shot at the buzzer lifted the Wolverines over Purdue in a game in which they trailed by as many as 19 points. Despite the low standing of that Boilermakers team, that comeback victory propelled Michigan to two more victories, including a 31-point dismantling of Illinois to clinch the Big Ten outright.

On March 9, Michigan State will travel to Columbus to battle Ohio State in the final nationally-televised Big Ten game of the regular season. It must satisfy John Beilein to think about the conference’s officials selling that game to CBS at the beginning of the season as the game that would probably decide the Big Ten champion.

Instead, nearly a full week beforehand, Michigan rendered that matchup completely worthless. Ohio State can finish .500 in the conference at best, while Michigan State ran out of excuses during a home loss to Illinois last Saturday. All season long, Tom Izzo whined about his team’s injuries, only to watch the group that grabbed the preseason No. 2 AP ranking tally a season-low 46 points against a conference bottom-feeder.

In Ann Arbor, Beilein took the loss of an All-American in stride, and Michigan rode it all the way to a championship.

This year’s Michigan basketball team failed to accomplish some of the feats that it did last season. It never held the No. 1 national ranking. It didn’t win 16 games in a row. It may not even make it to the Final Four, though that remains to be seen.

But these players created a legacy of their own. They stomped the Buckeyes in Columbus during Aaron Craft’s final meeting. They silenced Izzo and the all-powerful Spartans with a convincing sweep.

Almost a year ago, a magical run to the Final Four brought the most famous college basketball team ever back together in Atlanta. As Jalen Rose led his former Michigan teammates down the isle of the Georgia Dome towards the court where the Wolverines prepared for the National Championship game, fans realized that Michigan basketball truly returned.

But this year’s team accomplished something that last year’s team and even the Fab Five couldn’t. These players are outright Big Ten champions.

Big Ten title race down to three

Friday, February 28th, 2014

UM crowd vs MSU 2-23-14

As February comes to a close and perhaps the greatest month in all of sports approaches, the Big Ten men’s basketball conference remains as unpredictable as ever.

Nearly two weeks ago, the would-be headliner battle between the two Michigan schools that topped the standings all season long suffered a major blow when Michigan fell to Wisconsin and Nebraska shocked Michigan State in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Nebraska put together a five-game winning streak to burst onto the NCAA bubble, only to lose to lowly Illinois and see it all slip away. Even the Iowa-Indiana game scheduled for Feb. 18 proved unpredictable, as an eight-foot beam that fell from the Assembly Hall ceiling postponed the game for over a week.

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the standings usually provide a clearer picture of what the conference tournament will feature. But in the midst of such an erratic regular season, more surprises surely lie ahead, right?

Spoiler alert: This year’s Big Ten regular season championship is Michigan’s to lose.

Remaining schedule for Big Ten title contenders
Michigan Michigan State Wisconsin
Saturday vs Minnesota, 6pm BTN vs Illinois, 4pm ESPN
Sunday at Penn State, 12pm BTN
Tuesday, Mar. 4 at Illinois, 7pm ESPN
Wednesday, Mar. 5 vs Purdue, 9pm BTN
Thursday, Mar. 6 vs Iowa, 9pm ESPN
Saturday, Mar. 8 vs Indiana, 6pm ESPN
Sunday, Mar. 9 at Ohio State, 4:30pm CBS at Nebraska, 7:30pm BTN

After the victory to sweep Tom Izzo’s Spartans, Michigan firmly planted itself atop the conference with four winnable games remaining.

A trip to Purdue, which provided the most difficult remaining challenge, ended with a miracle in-bounds play for the Wolverines, who snuck out of West Lafayette unscathed, much to the chagrin of championship hopefuls Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Now the only teams standing in Michigan’s way are 5-9 Indiana, 5-10 Illinois, and a struggling Minnesota team with just two conference road wins against the league’s last place squads. John Beilein’s one-game lead should hold up and bring Michigan the long-awaited sole Big Ten title.

But outcomes rarely go according to plan in the 2013-14 edition of the Big Ten. If the first place Wolverines do drop any of their final three games, what does it mean?

Iowa’s loss at Indiana on Thursday night and Ohio State’s loss at Penn State made it mathematically official: the only two teams left to challenge Michigan are Michigan State (one game behind) and Wisconsin (two).

Michigan's last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Michigan’s last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Let’s say Michigan finishes the season by winning two of its final three games. Regardless of what Wisconsin does in its final three games, the Badgers would fall short of the Wolverines, having already lost five times in the Big Ten.

A Michigan loss would, however, leave the door open for Michigan State, which could finish the season in a tie and, despite earning the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, boast a share of the regular season championship. But the Spartans face a one of the toughest stretch runs in the Big Ten.

Michigan State played sub-.500 basketball in the month of February, losing four of seven games. The Breslin Center lost some of its esteem after Nebraska came in and bullied the Spartans last weekend, so a matchup with the desperate Hawkeyes on March 6 could challenge Izzo’s battered team. Iowa’s current three-game losing streak compliment’s Michigan State’s struggles to set up a surprisingly important matchup in the final week of the season.

Days later, the Spartans travel to Columbus in what Big Ten officials probably expected to be a conference-deciding game against Ohio State. However, a sweep at the hands of bottom-feeding Penn State dropped Thad Matta’s team well out of contention, and barring a Michigan loss, this game provides little importance in the bigger picture.

If Michigan does lose, then Ohio State earns a chance to play spoiler for Michigan State and help its hated rival from Ann Arbor. Michigan State hasn’t won back-to-back games since Jan. 21 when a win over Indiana marked its 11th straight at the time. Michigan ended that streak.

Clearly, Michigan State’s quest for a Big Ten title remains an uphill battle.

Wisconsin, unlike the Spartans, plays a much easier schedule to finish the season. Penn State and Purdue, both tied for last place, figure to provide little resistance for Wisconsin next week, setting up an important trip to Lincoln on March 9.

Nebraska’s only loss in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena came at the hands of the first-place Wolverines, who snuck out of Lincoln with a 71-70 win on Jan. 9 after the Huskers missed three layup attempts in the closing seconds. Despite the loss at Illinois on Wednesday, Nebraska’s five-game winning streak puts it tied for fourth place in the loss column in the conference. With a Big Ten record that matches Iowa’s and a nearly-perfect home resume, Nebraska provides a real challenge for Wisconsin to finish the regular season.

Even the most unpredictable conference standings take shape near the end of the season. Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin played well enough through 15 Big Ten games to stay alive into March, but Michigan represents the clear-cut favorite with less than two weeks to go.

The Wolverines may win all three remaining games and leave no room for another contender to catch up. But even if the surprising Big Ten serves up another upset, the odds lie in Michigan’s favor.

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

Derrick Walton Jr. holding his own as Trey Burke’s successor

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Walton vs MSU(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

When Michigan knocked off rival Michigan State in East Lansing on Jan. 25 it was freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. who led the way, pouring in 19 points, six rebounds, and four assists. On Sunday, the Spartans pay a return visit in what should decide the regular season Big Ten title and Michigan will need some more magic from its rising star.

As former Michigan stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. played on the same team last Friday night in the NBA Future Stars game, it brought back memories of the two tearing through the Big Ten in Ann Arbor. Burke, who received the Wooden Award as college basketball’s best player last season, left an especially unique mark on the Maize and Blue faithful after leading his team to the national championship game and returning the program to its former prestige.

But great college players all have something in common: they move on. Burke entered the NBA Draft after just his second season at Michigan and the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him with the No. 9 pick for the Utah Jazz. Burke has shined in the first half of his first NBA, averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 assists per game. Jazz began the season 1-11 with Burke out with an injury, but since Burke’s return, the team stands at a much-improved 18-22.

Burke scored 20 points to lead Michigan past the Spartans in his first meeting (

Burke scored 20 points to lead Michigan past the Spartans in his first meeting but managed just 11 in a loss in the second meeting (

Elite college programs separate themselves by reloading and maintaining levels of success even when great players move to the next level. Certainly, Michigan expected a decline in production from the point guard spot when Burke left.

The question remains, however, how much of a drop-off it has experienced.

Walton accepted the challenge of following the Burke show when he committed to John Beilein, and his play through 25 games suggests less of a difference than anticipated.

Through the first 25 games of his freshman season, Trey Burke averaged 14.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. To date, Walton averages 8.4 points and 2.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. Burke’s stats clearly overshadow those of his successor, but Michigan needs much less from Walton than it did from Burke.

Burke’s 11.6 shots per game through 25 games as a freshman nearly doubles Walton’s average of six. While Walton has taken 10 or more shots in a game just four times this season — and only once since Nov. 21 — Burke did so in 19 of his first 25. Percentages actually suggest that with more shot attempts, Walton would easily surpass the numbers recorded by Burke.

Burke shot an impressive 47.6 percent inside the arc and 39.1 percent from deep as a freshman. Although his sample size pales in comparison to the number of shots Burke took, Walton shoots 49.4 percent from two-point range and over 40 percent from three-point range. These numbers suggest that overall the freshman Walton plays more efficiently than Burke did.

During his freshman campaign, Burke led the Wolverines to the same 18-7 record through 25 games as Walton has done this season. Burke’s freshman run resulted in a Big Ten title and Walton’s is on pace to do the same.

Much like last year’s Wooden Award winner did during his college career, the young Walton demonstrates the ability to take over games when his team needs it. Burke’s miracle shot against Kansas in the Sweet 16 kept the Wolverines alive for their run to the national championship game, while Walton’s last-second and-one layup against Nebraska in early January christened the 2014 team as the only one to win in Lincoln’s new Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Freshman year comparison – First 25 games
Burke Min PPG Shots/Gm Ast/Gm Reb/Gm 2FG% 3FG%
2011-12 35.2 14.0 11.6 4.9 3.6 47.6 39.1
Walton Min PPG Shots/Gm Ast/Gm Reb/Gm 2FG% 3FG%
2013-14 26.4 8.4 6.0 2.9 2.8 47.1 39.4

Burke’s most iconic regular-season moment came in the form of a steal at half court, victimizing Michigan State’s Keith Appling for a Michigan victory. Walton similarly shattered the hearts of Spartan fans, scoring 19 points on just seven shot attempts to win in the Breslin Center, something Burke never accomplished. Instead, Burke did it in reverse during his freshman campaign, leading Michigan with 20 points in a 60-59 home win over Michigan State. He struggled in the second match, scoring 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Walton has a chance on Sunday to earn a reputation as a Spartan slayer.

Raw numbers never sufficiently tell the whole story in college sports. In 2011-12, Michigan needed its freshman point guard to score points, so Trey Burke took double-digit shots each game. Walton’s remarkable season comes in a different form: the youngster accepts his role as the fourth scoring option behind Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III and lets the offense flow.

Despite his youth, Walton never forces his shots and finds other ways to contribute when his teammates take care of the scoring. In Columbus last Tuesday, Walton grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out six assists while Stauskas led the team in scoring.

Comparing Walton to the greatest player in college basketball from a year ago reeks of disaster just 25 games into his career. But the freshman point guard plays with the poise and confidence of a much older player, and that maturity generates excitement among Michigan fans.

Derrick Walton Jr. isn’t Trey Burke. Not yet. But his first several months suggest a special future for Michigan’s newest star point guard. And another standout performance in leading Michigan to victory over Michigan State this Sunday would be another notch in his belt.

Is Stauskas NBA Draft bound?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Stauskas vs Iowa 1-22-14(Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Nik Stausaks is taking the Big Ten by storm in 2014. Four days after dropping 23 on third-ranked Wisconsin, which included a step-back three in the final minute to seal the game, Stauskas shot No. 10 Iowa out of the Crisler Center with 26 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Stauskas has embraced the go-to role in 2013-14 after first round picks Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. moved on to the NBA following Michigan’s Final Four run last season. The sophomore from Mississauga, Ontario leads the team with 18.5 points and 3.8 assists per game. He’s shooting a team-high 80 percent from the free throw line and 49.5 percent from the field. He also leads the Big Ten in scoring and ranks second behind Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in assists since conference play began, but his assist-to-turnover ratio is almost double Craft’s.

Stauskas has certainly raised his all-around game considerably since an impressive but inconsistent freshman season and the chances of him making the jump that Burke did is becoming warranted by the day. And his father voiced that possibility this week.

“He knows he has to keep his nose to the grindstone for another couple of months,” Paul Stauskas told “And there’s a really good chance he might be able to go pro. He’s worked really hard to achieve that.”

But following his standout performance against Iowa last night, Stauskas was quick to dismiss his father’s comments.

“I apologize for my father’s comments, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Stauskas said. “I haven’t really thought anything about that yet and we’ll just address that after the season.”

Though the young star has definitely played focused for John Beilein’s team this season, the draft has to be in the back of his mind. Stauskas’s reluctance to commit to the draft may be more than just a statement to quiet the media. The 2014 NBA Draft provides a uniquely difficult choice for players like Stauskas, who is considered a mid-second round talent at this point.

This year’s class features a deep mix of raw, young talent and proven stars. Freshmen like Jabari Parker (Duke), Julius Randle (Kentucky), Joel Embiid (Kansas) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) are top 10 locks for this summer’s draft.

However, sophomores like Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Jerami Grant (Syracuse) and fellow teammate Glenn Robinson III all figure to go ahead of Stauskas if he were to declare for the pros after this season.

There are also players that are tougher to predict. International star Dante Exum (Australia) is likely to crack the top 10, while transfer Rodney Hood (Duke) and Zach LaVine (UCLA) have made names for themselves as well.

Waiting another year and improving even fractionally as much as he did in the 2013 offseason would almost surely propel Stauskas into at least the late-first round of the less-stacked 2015 draft. But if he does decide to leave Ann Arbor after just two seasons, Beilein will have to do what elite college programs do – reload and bounce back.

Horford-Morgan duo stepping up inside

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Jordan Morgan vs PSU(Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

When Michigan announced that pre-season All-American forward Mitch McGary was having back surgery that would sideline him indefinitely, the Big Ten schedule started to look much more difficult for a team already sitting on four non-conference losses.

Since that devastating news, however, Michigan has won all six of its games and remains one of only two unbeaten teams in the Big Ten at 5-0. Wins on the road are tough to get in the best conference in the country, but Michigan is fresh off an upset of No. 3 Wisconsin in Madison and has already picked up victories in Minneapolis and Lincoln.

Last season’s Trey Burke-led team that went 31-8 and lost in the National Championship game still lost five conference road games, including one to the same Badgers that Michigan beat Saturday night.

So how is Michigan winning tough road games, even without Burke and McGary? One of the major reasons is the play of centers Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan.

Horford and Morgan combined for 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks against Wisconsin (

Horford and Morgan combined for 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks against Wisconsin (Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Horford’s Michigan career has been riddled with injuries. The redshirt junior fought back from a number of knee injuries and has struggled to get consistent playing time until this season.

But now that the team really needs him, Horford is stepping up in a big way. His dedication to improving on the offensive end has made him nearly automatic from anywhere within 10 feet of the basket and he finishes with authority when his teammates find him underneath.

His fellow center, Morgan, has also made progress offensively. As the most veteran player on the team, the fifth-year senior has accepted his role and worked on the little things that needed to improve, like catching the ball and finishing in traffic. Defensively, Morgan is one of the best in the country at hedging screens out top and can match up with nearly any big man inside.

The leadership of these two veteran players has helped steady the ship for a team that was 6-4 and crumbling under its own expectations. For two players that took on smaller roles when McGary came to Ann Arbor, the chance to get back in the regular rotation has ignited both Horford and Morgan.

When the stage is the biggest, the most reliable players bring their best game and that’s what the post tandem did for Michigan on Saturday night. The Wolverines were sitting on 11 straight losses at Kohl Center, a venue in which Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan had never lost to Michigan.

Though the trio of Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III combined for 57 of the team’s 77 points, Michigan’s post players set the stage for the big victory. Horford and Morgan were perfectly efficient, combining to shoot 6-of-6 from the field for 12 points. More importantly, they pulled down 15 total rebounds and blocked five shots.

With stars like Stauskas and Robinson III set to shoulder the majority of the load offensively in 2014, Horford and Morgan just need to be average for the team to be successful. However, if they continue to play at the high level they demonstrated Saturday night, Michigan could be a threat to make another deep run in March.

A Thanksgiving salute to the seniors of Team 134

Thursday, November 28th, 2013


Thanksgiving is a time for all to remember what they are thankful for, and on Saturday 17 Wolverines will take the field for the final time in Michigan Stadium. They’ll play their hearts out, hoping to redeem an otherwise lost season and play spoiler to their most bitter rival’s perfect season. But before we get there, let’s take some time to thank those men of the maize and blue that made the decision to attend the University of Michigan.

Taylor Lewan
Career starts Consecutive starts Honors
46 39 All-Big Ten first team (2012), second team (2011), Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year (2012), Walter Camp first team All-American (2012), Rotary Lombardi Award semifinalist (2013)

Thank you Taylor Lewan for sticking it out for all five years. Thank you for forgoing sure millions in the 2012 NFL Draft to return to school, finish your career, and help mentor the young offensive linemen. Thank you for carrying on the tradition that so many linemen before you began. Your senior season hasn’t gone as planned, but you’ll go down as one of the all time Michigan great left tackles and while it doesn’t show right now, your leadership and guidance of the young guys will pay dividends in the coming years. May a long and productive career in the NFL await you.

Jeremy Gallon
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
155 2,440 16 15.7

Thank you Jeremy Gallon for working hard to improve for five straight years. You committed to Rich Rodriguez while he was in the process of recruiting smaller guys but didn’t really even get to play in his offense. Thank you for sticking with Michigan through the coaching change and forcing yourself into the leading role in an offense built for taller receivers. You’re on pace to finish in the top five in every career receiving category and top two in single season receiving yards, despite standing just 5’8″. Whether the NFL comes calling or not, thank you for being a bright spot in an otherwise down season and best of luck for your future.

Fitzgerald Toussaint
Career Rushes Career Rushing Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
503 2,255 26 4.5

Thank you Fitzgerald Toussaint for bringing excitement back to the Michigan backfield for the first time since Mike Hart left. We’ll always have 2011 when you ran for 1,041 yards and, along with Denard Robinson, became the first Michigan tandem to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since the 1970s. This season has been tough and last season ended with a gruesome injury, but thank you for pushing hard to overcome the injury and work your way back into the starting role.

Brendan Gibbons
Career FG Attempted Career FG Made Career FG % Career PATs
60 45 75% 156-158 (98.7%)

Thank you Brendan Gibbons for your improvement throughout your five years in Ann Arbor. Your freshman struggles are a distant memory as you have become one of Michigan’s all-time best field goal kickers. Your game winning kicks against Virginia Tech in the 2012 bSugar Bowl and Michigan State in 2012 will always be remembered, as will your other game-tying kicks. You are proof that vast improvement can be made year-to-year.

Drew Dileo
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC Career Punt Ret Career Yds/Ret
39 560 5 14.4 11 7.2

Thank you Drew Dileo for coming north to play for Michigan and providing a set of sure hands. You’ll always be remembered for your big plays in helping Michigan end its losing streak to Michigan State in 2012, but more so for your hard work and dependability. When Hoke needed sure hands at returning punts, you filled in. Your ability to hold for field goals has been steady and the slide into the hold for the game-tying field goal against Northwestern this season will go down in history.

Michael Schofield
Career Games Played Career Starts
50 34

Thank you Michael Schofield for giving this year’s squad a veteran presence on the offensive line along with Taylor Lewan. While the season hasn’t gone as planned, your guidance of the young linemen will pay off down the road. You started your career at guard and then held down the right tackle spot for two years. Although you don’t have the accolades of Lewan, you’ve been a steady contributor and may you find a spot at the next level.

Thomas Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
36 214 3 11.5 3 4 6

Thank you Thomas Gordon for holding down the secondary and providing a veteran presence while Hoke’s young guys work their way into the lineup. You were the team’s third-leading tackler in both 2011 and 2012 and currently rank sixth this year. Your interception ended this year’s Northwestern game in overtime and you led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries in 2011. Thank you for a productive career.

Cameron Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
15 132 4 14 1 2 3

Thank you Cam Gordon for your flexibility over the past five seasons and being willing to play wherever you were needed in order to see the field. You came in as a receiver, switched to safety and then to linebacker and were named to the Freshman All-America second team in 2010. A back injury forced you to miss time in 2011 but you fought your way back in 2012 and have played a key reserve role at linebacker and even defensive end the last two seasons. Perhaps most importantly you were named Academic All-Big Ten each of the last three seasons, so big things are in store for you when your playing days are done.

Jibreel Black
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
14 69 7 14 3 0 0

Thank you Jibreel Black for an under the radar but productive career. You waited your turn, serving as an important reserve defensive lineman in 2011 and 2012 before working your way into the starting lineup this season. You recorded three sacks in the final four games of 2011 and made a key sack in overtime against Northwestern this season.

Quinton Washington
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
16 54 1 3 1 0 0

Thank you Quinton Washington for giving the team a veteran leader on the defensive line despite coming to Michigan on the other side of the ball. You started your career at right guard in 2010 before switching over to the defense. You blocked a kick against South Carolina in last season’s Outback Bowl and have held down the middle of the defense in the absence of Ondre Pipkins this season.

Courtney Avery
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
18 109 1.5 5 3 3 2

Thank you Courtney Avery for outperforming your recruiting rankings and earning a spot as team captain this season. You’ll be remembered for your interception on Ohio State’s final drive in 2011 to seal the win, ending their winning streak. You tied a Michigan record for longest fumble recovery against Minnesota that same year. You’ve battled injuries but always found a way to get on the field. You were given the honor of wearing the No. 11 Legends jersey to honor the Wistert brothers, Francis, Albert, and Alvin, and that will be something you can be proud of when your playing days are over.

Thank you Joe Reynolds, Jeremy Jackson, Jareth Glanda, Erik Gunderson, Dylan Esterline, and Kristian Mateus for your contributions to the Michigan football program over the last four or five years. You helped prepare the team for battle week in and week out and can take pride in being able to don the maize and blue. Best of luck wherever your post football careers lead you.

These 17 young men will be honored prior to Saturday’s game, so regardless of how you view this season make sure to get there in time to give them the ovation they deserve. If you’re not happy with the way this season has gone, you can bet they feel it ten times worse, but all of them came in under a different head coach and, stuck out the transition, and have laid the foundation for Hoke’s future success.

The recipe for winning the Legends Division

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013


Michigan’s surprising loss to Penn State has all but removed the team from competing for the 2013 National Championship, but the Maize and Blue still have eyes on the conference title. Thankfully, the Legends Division is still winnable.

Northwestern is out of contention with its 0-3 conference start, and both Iowa and Minnesota are long shots to compete with two losses and tough future schedules. Three teams are seemingly competing for one spot in the title game in Indianapolis: Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska.

Because of the loss in Happy Valley, Michigan currently sits behind undefeated Michigan State and Nebraska. The race has just begun, though, because all three teams have yet to play each other.

Michigan State has been an extremely interesting team to follow thus far. Despite scoring just over 28 points per game, the Spartans are 6-1 overall and have won all six by 12 or more points. The 3-0 conference record is thanks in large part to the weak teams they have faced to this point. Iowa, Indiana and Purdue have a combined record of 8-12, and all three games were within one possession in the fourth quarter against the Spartans.

Although these wins haven’t been impressive, Mark Dantonio’s defense gives this team a chance to win on any given Saturday. Having allowed just 13.6 points per game, the Spartans rank fourth in the country on defense. But considering the strength of the offensive units Michigan State has faced, those numbers seem largely unproven.

The path to the Legends Division title goes through East Lansing (Rey Del Rio, MSU Athletic Communications)

Of the six FBS teams that have faced Michigan State this season, only one (Indiana) ranks in the top 70 in the nation in scoring. In fact, South Florida (120th), Western Michigan (121st) and Purdue (122nd) are three of the worst scoring teams in the entire country. Notre Dame (83rd) and Iowa (72nd) combined for just 27 points against Michigan State, but neither team has been explosive on offense all season.

In comparison, Michigan’s defense gives up almost twice as many points per game as Michigan State (26.7). While the Hoosiers scored 28 points on the vaunted Spartan defense, they dropped 47 on Michigan in the Big House. While Michigan State’s competition has clearly been much weaker than Michigan’s and the Wolverine offense doesn’t control the clock well enough to keep the defense off the field, the Spartans still hold the defensive edge.

The real difference between the in-state rivals comes on the offensive side of the ball, where the Wolverines are tied with Indiana for 11th in the country with 42.4 points per game. Michigan State has scored over 30 points just once against an FBS opponent this season: a 42-point outburst against one of the worst defenses in the country, Indiana – the same one Michigan just put up 63 on.

Michigan’s similarity to Indiana in offensive numbers predicts that the Spartans will have to score 30 points again to win the Paul Bunyan Trophy, as the Hoosiers scored 28 points in East Lansing. Overall, a slight edge seems to favor Michigan in this game.

Nebraska has even more questions than Michigan State, as the only winning team they’ve beaten is the 4-3 Wyoming Cowboys. When No. 16 UCLA came to visit on September 14, Nebraska laid an egg in the second half and got blown out 41-21. The 2-0 Big Ten record is due to a schedule that started with Illinois and Purdue.

Michigan’s greatest advantage over Nebraska is in the style of the Cornhusker offense. Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah have one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country, but the passing game hasn’t been quite as crisp. Michigan’s inability to defend the pass was exploited during the shootout with Indiana, but if Nebraska can’t attack through the air then the matchup works in Greg Mattison’s favor.

Michigan also gets to host this game in the Big House, where head coach Brady Hoke hasn’t lost in three years. Ann Arbor has seen the Wolverines win some games they had no business winning under Hoke, including the famous 2011 night game against Notre Dame and the 2012 prayer to Roy Roundtree against Northwestern.

All things considered, the Wolverines could realistically win both games against division rivals, but the major handicap to advancing to Indianapolis is that Michigan is the only of the three that has to play Ohio State.

While the Buckeyes are clearly the class of the Big Ten, conference opponents have proven that the gap isn’t as large as it appeared in late September. Ohio State has won three conference games by an average of nine points, beating Wisconsin and Iowa in Columbus and fighting off Northwestern in Evanston.

Nebraska has beaten just one winning team so far this season (Scott Bruhn, NU Media Relations)

Now that the Wildcats have fallen apart, the Buckeyes appear virtually untested on the road, and won’t have a true test away from home until the matchup in Ann Arbor. Ohio State’s four road opponents before The Game (California, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue) have a combined conference record of 0-12. Michigan’s home winning streak looms large in this matchup.

If the Wolverines do falter in the final regular season game, there is still hope. For the sake of the argument let’s assume they beat both Michigan State and Nebraska but lose to Ohio State. The winner of the Nebraska vs. Michigan State game would have to lose another Big Ten game to propel Michigan to Indianapolis.

Michigan State’s other three games are at Illinois, at Northwestern and against Minnesota. Though the Wildcats looked like contenders early in the year, Michigan State will likely win all of those games.

Nebraska has a manageable schedule as well: with home games against Northwestern and Iowa sandwiching a trip to Happy Valley.

The most likely upset of these six games has to be Michigan State’s trip to Northwestern. If Pat Fitzgerald can find some semblance of the success the team had in September, they might be able to overcome the Spartan defense. That would mean Michigan State would need to win in Nebraska for Michigan to win the division.

In a year with a relatively weak slate of Big Ten teams, Michigan’s slip-up against Penn State could really cost the team a shot at the conference championship. To ensure a trip to Indianapolis, the Wolverines will likely have to win all five remaining games. With three of those battles on the road and both home games against ranked opponents, the rest of the year will be a grind.

If Devin Gardner can take care of the ball and Raymon Taylor can keep receivers in front of him then winning out is a possibility for Michigan, but it sure won’t be easy.

A close loss to the Buckeyes and a 10-2 record would likely give Michigan a shot to compete in a BCS bowl game in the final season before the new playoff system begins. With so many top teams falling last weekend, the nation is really a tossup in the rankings from No. 8-20. Michigan no longer needs to worry about looking good every weekend, it just needs to find a way to escape with victories.

Thirty games in, where does Hoke stand?

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Last Saturday marked the 30th game of Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, and while it wasn’t pretty it resulted in a win. As we conclude the first of two bye weeks for Hoke’s squad this season it’s the perfect time to examine his first 30 games and how they stack up against the other coaches in Michigan history. First, let’s take a look at wins.

Hoke has won 77 percent of his games so far and 75 percent of his Big Ten contests. His 23 wins are the fourth most during that time span, behind Fielding Yost’s 29, Bo Schembechler’s 26, and Gary Moeller and Fritz Crisler’s 24. It is one ahead of Lloyd Carr’s 22 and ten better than his predecessor Rich Rodriguez.

Digging even further, we find that Hoke’s four wins over the three main rivals – Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame – are third only to Fritz Crisler’s seven and Gary Moeller’s five. Lloyd Carr and Bennie Oosterbaan each also won four games over the three main rivals in their first 30 games.

Yost obviously coached in a far different era, his first season being 110 years before Hoke took over. Schembechler and Crisler can be the most comparable to Hoke’s situation, having both taken over teams that had two losing seasons in the previous four. In Bo’s case, it was a program that had really been struggling for the previous decade. That he was able to have such immediate success, going to two Rose Bowls in his first three seasons, is a major reason why Bo is so revered. Moeller took over from Bo and had been on his staff for the majority of Bo’s tenure, so his first three seasons were mostly just an extension of his predecessor.

While Hoke has one more victory in his first 30 games than Carr, it is important to note that Carr won his next seven and the national championship, so unless Hoke does the same, he will fall behind Carr in the near future. Another item worth noting is that Hoke is the only coach other than Yost to not lose a single home game in his first 30 games. Schembechler lost just one – a 40-17 loss to 13th-ranked Missouri. Hoke is currently 17-0 in Michigan Stadium.

Now that we have established that Hoke ranks up there with the greats in Michigan history in victories through his first 30 games, let’s take a look at one of the areas Michigan has been struggling with this season: turnovers.

Turnover records don’t go far enough to compare turnovers from the Schembechler era backwards, but we can compare Hoke to the previous three regimes. As you can see above, Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over 61 times – just over two per game – which is second most behind the 66 given up during Rich Rodriguez’s first 30 games. Carr’s teams were better at taking care of the football, but Hoke still won one more game, while Moeller’s gave it up 16 percent fewer times.

One hypothesis as to why Hoke’s teams have turned it over more than Moeller’s and Carr’s is that he has many of the same players that Rodriguez’s staff recruited and coached. But Hoke’s first season wasn’t bad with 22 giveaways (16 interceptions and six fumbles). By comparison, Carr’s first two seasons had 23 turnovers each. Last season the number ballooned to 27 and this season Michigan is on pace for 36. The pace isn’t likely to continue, but unless they improve drastically the rest of the season it will be another large season total.

I think, rather than blaming it on Rodriguez’s recruits/players, the type of quarterback Michigan has had the past few years is the main culprit. Hoke has talked several times about Devin Gardner’s athleticism being both a strength and a weakness because it can create big plays out of nothing but also lead to mistakes that shouldn’t be made simply because other quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to make them. The same can be said for Denard Robinson.

Hoke's first 30 games are right on par but if Gardner's turnover woes don't improve he could fall behind (David Butler II, USA Today)

Of Michigan’s 12 turnovers this season nine have been interceptions. Of the 61 turnovers under Hoke, 44 have been interceptions and just 17 have been fumbles. Conversely, of the 55 under Carr, 28 were interceptions and 27 were fumbles, while of the 51 under Moeller, 27 were interceptions and 24 were fumbles. In other words, the quarterbacks – Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Brian Griese, and Scott Dreisbach – were more traditional quarterbacks who took better care of the ball.

In addition, the disparity can’t be chalked up to more passing and less running. Moeller’s teams averaged 290 passes and 565 runs in his first three seasons, while Carr’s averaged 343 passes and 557 runs and Hoke’s have averaged 308 passes and 521 runs.

Fumbles are an odd thing in football. Just because a player fumbles it doesn’t mean it results in a turnover. Carr’s teams fumbled 59 times but only 27 of those (46 percent) were turnovers. Moeller’s fumbled 41 times and 24 (58 percent) were recovered by the opponent. Hoke’s teams so far have fumbled 44 times and 17 (39 percent) have been turnovers. So the ball has bounced Michigan’s way under Hoke, but the quarterbacks have been more careless with the ball.

It’s also important to go back and look at Hoke’s turnover record at his previous head coaching stops, Ball State (2003-08) and San Diego State (2009-10). Over the course of those eight seasons Hoke’s teams averaged just 18.25 turnovers per season, which is right on par with Moeller’s years at Michigan.

So what can we make of all of this? Although Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over more than Carr’s, he has one more win to show for it at this point. But nobody is going to argue that this team is as talented as Carr’s 1997 squad. Fumbles are largely a random event, and in this case, the luck has been mostly on Hoke’s side, but the quarterbacks Hoke has had are different types of quarterbacks than those that Carr and Moeller had. And Hoke’s history is one of fundamentals and taking care of the football, so it’s not likely that the current turnover woes will continue much longer.

Last Saturday was Gardner’s ninth career start, which means he’s still essentially a first year signal caller. As he continues to mature and get more experience under his belt his decision making will improve and he’ll learn that sometimes simply throwing the ball away is better than trying to be Superman. He has two-thirds of a season remaining in 2013 and a full year in 2014, and any bit of improvement in ball security will significantly improve Hoke’s chances of winning more games before the Wolverines return to the same type of quarterback Moeller and Carr had: less risk, less reward, but more consistent.

Gardner is a very smart kid and despite his recent struggles he will bounce back and provide far more thrilling moments than bad ones, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Michigan is in good hands under Hoke and he’ll help guide Gardner through his woes.

4,500 tickets, 3,000 seats: Former Maize Rage President’s take on new basketball student ticket policy

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

A week ago, Derick shared his view on the athletic department’s announcement about the new process for basketball student tickets this season. As Superfan, whose role is to lead the chants at the front of the Maize Rage, his view was essentially that it was a net positive because it would result in more seats being full and many of the nation’s top basketball programs already use a similar system.

Now, in the interest of fairness and lending a voice to both sides of the argument, Sam would like to express his differing view. As a former president of the Maize Rage, Sam is certainly a credible voice in the discussion having presided over the student section and involved with it during the resurgence of the program.

(Eric Bronson, U-M Photo Services)

The 2013-14 school year has already proven to be a controversial one for University of Michigan student and Athletic Department relations. First, over the summer, the Athletic Department announced an overhaul of the football student section to first-come, first-serve seating. Seniors were outraged after the realization that, after working their way down the stadium stairs for three years, they would be given no priority for watching games at the Big House.

The move was an understandable one, a result of extremely poor student attendance at the onset of games in the recent past. Athletic Director David Brandon had hinted time and again that some sort of change would be needed, and a change in policy certainly came.

In the past, all students could show up at any time, whether 30 minutes prior to kickoff or midway through the second quarter, and claim their assigned seat – the more credits, the better the seat – without consequence. With the change, the athletic department has forced students into a quasi-ultimatum. Either skip the pre-game festivities and get in line, or sit in the nosebleeds.

Against Central Michigan and Notre Dame, the student section was noticeably packed by the time the ball was kicked, and Brandon’s policy seemed to be doing what it was meant to. Then Akron came to the Big House, and the student section appeared to be about 75 percent empty at the start of the game. In the case of football seating, only time will bring a verdict.

Fast forward to the fall. Michigan’s football team is off to a shaky 4-0 start and, like magic, another new ticket policy has been thrown at Michigan students – this time for basketball.

After selling some 4,500 student basketball season ticket packages, easily a new record, on the heels of a Final Four run, the Athletic Department realized they had made a big mistake.

The students have thrown their support behind John Beilein who has elevated the program out of its lean years (Lon Horwedel,

No, it’s not that the $200 charged to each student wasn’t enough, or that students weren’t showing up on time, but rather that season tickets were oversold – by a long shot.

In an email to student season ticket holders last week, the AD announced that the Crisler Center only has room for about 3,000 students per game, and record purchasing numbers had necessitated a seemingly unforeseen change in policy. From now on, students were told that they would have to claim their tickets to each game days or weeks in advance on a first-come, first-serve basis and that after the 3,000 ticket allotment was claimed, all other student season ticket holders were out of luck – no passing go, no refund, no seat.

Surprisingly, most of the reaction I have heard from the core of the Maize Rage, the most dedicated season ticket holders, has been neutral or even positive. Even our own Derick, the Maize Rage’s Superfan, wrote an article preaching how this policy was needed and that the only students being punished are the “lazy” ones.

I, however, am utterly appalled by the actions of the Athletic Department on multiple levels.

My first issue with this new policy is the apparent ineptitude of the Athletic Department in failing to foresee an issue long before this over-selling came about.

When I was a freshman just six seasons ago, I was one of approximately 400 students who paid $99 for student basketball tickets. On top of the countless gift cards, pizzas, and shirts thrown at us by the Athletic Department for coming to games, we enjoyed an incredible season that included a home win over Duke and the end to Michigan’s NCAA Tournament drought. As the team started to show that it was for real, other students caught on and wanted to join in on the fun, and the Athletic Department was happy to oblige by giving these students free tickets at the door for just about every home game of the season.

The next year, some 1,500 students bought season tickets in anticipation of another great team, and despite a 15-17 finish that year, the team was sure to bounce back, and by the time I was the President of the Maize Rage my senior year in 2011, 2,500 students purchased season tickets. Last year, around 3,000 tickets were sold.

There is a clear theme here: the better the team, the more students want to come. Michigan has lost just two home games over the last two seasons, and after this March’s run to the championship game, the excitement of the team and the fun to be had at Crisler are no longer secrets; kids want to go to games.

With a little bit of forecasting work, the Athletic Department should have anticipated the heightened demand for student tickets and acted accordingly at a more appropriate date. Instead of guaranteeing tickets for every single game for every returning student who wanted in on the action back in April, perhaps a policy should have been put in place to prevent this disaster from happening.

AD Dave Brandon has made several controversial moves over the last few years (

Instead, the Athletic Department was either completely oblivious to what would eventually happen or was so money-thirsty that nothing was done. The only guarantee students are given by the same Athletic Department now is their money back in exchange for their season tickets if they want to help the Athletic Department with their damage control.

Coming up with a policy much earlier would have been quite a bit easier. First, guarantee tickets for every student who has attended at least 80 percent of the home games over the past two seasons, 95 percent of the home games last season, or is a freshman. This would give the most dedicated, passionate, loyal, and, most likely, raucous, students the first chance to order basketball tickets while not punishing those freshmen who have not yet had the chance to prove their fandom. At the same time, it would punish those “lazy” students who have either failed to prove their dedication to the team by continually missing home games, or those who have jumped on the bandwagon.

After these qualified students had the chance to buy tickets, the remaining returning students would then have had the opportunity to purchase as many tickets as were left. If only 3,000 seats can truly be given to students, at least there would be no need to take tickets away from students who already paid full price to have the right to go to every home game. Better yet, you could still have students claim the tickets they want beforehand, and for those tickets not claimed, the students who were not able to purchase season tickets in the first place would have an opportunity to attend a few games.

Instead of this policy, which would have given priority to students who will almost assuredly be at games while also guaranteeing a full student section on a nightly basis, 4,500 students were allowed to purchase tickets in the first place just to be told that 33 percent of those students with a “ticket”, because now a “ticket” is not actually a ticket, would not be able to attend every single game.

As it stands now, there is no distinction or reward given to the dedicated basketball fans that the Athletic Department has feigned preference for, no punishment doled out to the lazy fans that the Athletic Department has pointed to as the reason for implementing this new policy, and certainly no effort to work toward a solution that would see the right fans at Crisler on a nightly basis. And yet somehow, the Athletic Department has convinced the dedicated students that deserve to be at Crisler every night, sans claiming tickets at 8:30am on a weekday five times throughout the season, that this policy was the only solution. The more you think about it, the more clear it becomes that this policy is a money grab by the Athletic Department and nothing more. By giving students the opportunity to sell their tickets back, they absolve themselves of all legal issues, but will still likely be able to collect money for about 1,000 “tickets” that are unusable.

4,500 students bought tickets to enter through this gate, but only up to 3,000 will be able to (Emilio Collavino)

Ultimately, I truly do understand that something had to be done, but I wish it would have been done much earlier and in a much different way. In a perfect world, every student who wants to buy basketball tickets should be able to and should have a seat at Crisler for every game. Furthermore, more than 30 percent of the students need to be in the lower deck (as it stands now, the bleachers and section 130 next to the band seat about 900 students while the rest are thrown in the upper bowl, where it is much more difficult to get fully-involved in the action; this, of course, is so that the AD can continue to collect giant donations from and charge ludicrous prices to the general public for the premium lower bowl seats that really should be going to the students if the AD truly cared about the game day atmosphere), but that is a story for another day.

If the AD honestly failed to foresee a student ticket demand too high for supply and had no other way out, they need to at the very least apologize for the mistake on their part and take away a more reasonable number of tickets, say 500, suck up the slight money loss, expand the student section to the necessary amount, and sell fewer seats to the general public on a nightly basis to make this a possibility. Even then, if more tickets were claimed than were available, the money should be refunded to all those students looking to claim a ticket that they rightly paid for but are not able to receive due to the over-selling.

Instead, students are now stuck with a policy that will see servers crash as they make a virtual mad dash to claim tickets, hoping against hope that 3,000 others don’t claim their games beforehand. More time will be wasted claiming tickets when the students should be in class, studying, or making posters for the next basketball game. And all the while, the AD will laugh while rolling in the money from a broken policy.

What happens when 3,500 students claim a ticket for the home opener against UMass-Lowell? Don’t ask me. Call the Athletic Department and see how the damage control looks now.