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Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2015: Defense

Friday, July 29th, 2016


Don Brown Michigan

Yesterday we outlined how each team’s returning offensive production compares throughout the Big Ten. Today, it’s time to take a look at the defensive side of the ball and tie it all together.

A year ago, Ohio State returned the most defensive production with 74 percent of its 2014 tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and takeaways back. It paid off as the Buckeyes finished third in the Big Ten in total defense and second in scoring defense. However, the team right behind them with 71 percent returning — Illinois– finished just ninth in total defense and eighth in scoring defense. The top two defenses in the conference, Wisconsin and Michigan, began the year with just 61 percent (seventh-most) and 63 percent (fifth-most) of their 2014 production returning.

Aside from Illinois, the teams with the most returning defensive production fared better than those with the least. The seven worst defenses in the conference were the same seven that returned the least from 2014.

Interestingly, the opposite was true the previous season. Maryland, Indiana, and Rutgers returned the most production from 2013, but produced three of the four worst defenses in the conference. Conversely, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State returned the lease production and turned out four of the top six defenses. So what does that tell us? (Shrug).

Let’s take a look at what this season looks like.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Total Defense Rating
Purdue 79% 110
Indiana 77% 120
Nebraska 69% 64
Michigan State 65% 26
Wisconsin 64% 2
Northwestern 63% 13
Iowa 63% 22
Minnesota 60% 24
Penn State 59% 14
Rutgers 59% 111
Michigan 54% 4
Maryland 52% 90
Ohio State 46% 9
Illinois 40% 30

Entering this season, two of the three worst defenses in the Big Ten a year ago return the most production by far. Purdue, which ranked 110th nationally in total defense and 111th in scoring defense, returns 79 percent including a whopping 88 percent of its tackles for loss and 83 percent of its sacks. Indiana, which ranked 120th in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, returns 77 percent including 80 percent of its total tackles and 19 of 22 takeaways. However, the Hoosiers do have to replace defensive end Nick Mangieri, who led the team in tackles for loss and sacks.

Nobody expects Purdue or Indiana to factor into the Big Ten race for obvious reasons, but the next few teams with the most returning defensive production certainly will. Nebraska returns 69 percent of its defense which ranked 64th nationally last season. Five of the top six tacklers return as do all but three takeaways. But the Cornhuskers ranked ahead of only Michigan in takeaways.

Michigan State (65 percent), Wisconsin (64 percent), Iowa (63 percent), and Northwestern (63 percent) were all ranked among the top 26 defenses in the country and return two-thirds of that production. Wisconsin has to replace linebacker Joe Schobert, who ranked second in the Big Ten with 19.5 tackles for loss and fourth with 9.5 sacks, and safety Tanner McEvoy, who ranked second in the conference with five interceptions and also added two fumble recoveries. Michigan State has to replace defensive end Shilique Calhoun’s 10.5 sacks and 15 TFLs but returns four of its top five tacklers. Iowa lost tackles for loss leader, defensive end Nate Meier, and three of its top four tacklers but returns all but three of its 27 takeaways — a number that ranked second only to MSU’s 28 a year ago. Northwestern returns leading tackler, linebacker Anthony Walker, who led the Big Ten in tackles for loss, but will have to make up for the loss of defensive end Deonte Gibson, its sack leader, and the next three leaders in TFLs.

Minnesota, Penn State, and Rutgers all return the same amount of production at 60, 59, and 59 percent, respectively, but one of these is not like the others. While Penn State’s defense ranked 14th nationally and Minnesota’s 24th, Rutgers’ was near the bottom at 111th. Minnesota brings back 70 percent of its tackles for loss, but lost two of the top three tacklers. Penn State has work cut out in replacing end Carl Nassib and tackle Austin Johnson, who combined for 34.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. Rutgers, meanwhile, returns all but three of its sacks, though the Scarlet Knights ranked dead last in that category last season.

Michigan brings back 54 percent of its fourth-ranked defense but has to replace its top three tacklers, linebackers Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan and safety Jarrod Wilson. But replacing tackles is much easier than replacing impact plays, and the Wolverines bring back three of their top four tackles for loss leaders and two of their top three sack leaders from 2015.

Maryland returns just over half of its 90th-ranked defense but lost linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and tackle Quinton Jefferson who were the Terps’ top two leaders in tackles for loss and sacks.

Ohio State, which returns the least offensive production, returns the second least on the defensive side thanks to six NFL Draft picks from that side alone. But like on offense, the cupboard is far from bare. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis led the team with eight sacks and was second only to Joey Bosa in tackles for loss. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is a tackling machine who ranked fourth in the Big Ten last season. And while end Sam Hubbard only recorded 28 total tackles, 8 of them were behind the line of scrimmage, including 6.5 sacks.

Finally, Illinois returns just 40 percent of its 2015 defensive production, the least of any team in the Big Ten since at least 2014 when we started tracking. The Illini were a very respectable 30th a year ago, but lost the conference’s leading tackler, safety Clayton Fejedelem, as well as their next two leading tacklers. If there’s a silver lining it’s that 71 percent of their sacks are back, most notably linebacker Dawuane Smoot.

So what does it all mean? The following chart plots each team by both offensive and defensive production.

2015to2016 Returning Production Chart

If the trend of the past two seasons continues there are two teams in ideal position to win the Big Ten, plotting very similarly to Ohio State in 2014 and Michigan State in 2015. One is Penn State and the other is Michigan. And while both have room for optimism heading into the season Michigan is better positioned for two reasons: the two biggest weaknesses — quarterback and linebacker — have been addressed.

First, Jim Harbaugh did wonders for Jake Rudock in a short time a year ago and now he gets the luxury of having a quarterback — whether it be John O’Korn or Wilton Speight — who already has more than a year of his tutelage to build on. Looking at Harbaugh’s track record coaching quarterbacks, from Rich Gannon to Josh Johnson to Andrew Luck to Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick and most recently Rudock, it’s clear that he could essentially take a tackling dummy and turn it into a serviceable quarterback.

The second issue has been addressed by bringing in Don Brown, a.k.a. Dr. Blitz, to run the defense. He promptly moved the dynamic Jabrill Peppers to a hybrid linebacker position that perfectly complements Brown’s scheme and Michigan’s defensive strengths — the line and the secondary.

The biggest roadblock to Michigan’s title hopes is its schedule that takes the Wolverines to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Columbus in a span of five weeks. The good news is that those all fall in the latter half of the season, after Michigan works out any kinks it may have at the start of the season.

Does this mean Michigan will win the Big Ten? Absolutely not. Since we just started tracking returning production in 2014, it’s a very small sample size to draw any definitive conclusions from. And just because Michigan falls right within the returning production sweet spot that produced Big Ten champions each of the last two seasons it doesn’t guarantee anything. After all, Rutgers and Minnesota were within that sweet spot last season as well. But it should at least provide a little extra dose of optimism for a Michigan team that already enters the season with plenty of it.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2015: Offense

Thursday, July 28th, 2016


MSU 2015(Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

With less than six weeks remaining until college football returns the Michigan hype train is in full force entering Jim Harbaugh’s second season at the helm. The main questions the Wolverines face are at the quarterback position — Harbaugh’s specialty — and linebacker where do-it-all burgeoning superstar Jabrill Peppers will step in. But how does Michigan compare to the rest of the Big Ten in terms of who’s coming back?

It’s time to take our annual look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. Of course, this is just one metric to use to predict each team’s success in the upcoming season, not the be all end all, but we’ll take a look at how it panned out the past two years as well and see if we can make any predictions on outcomes this fall.

The first year we tracked this, 2014, eventual champion Ohio State returned 60 percent of both its offense and its defense from the previous season. Last season, Big Ten champion Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense, or just over 60 percent of its total returning production from 2014.

The teams with the most returning production both years — Maryland in 2014 with 90 percent and Ohio State in 2015 with 81 percent — both failed to reach the Big Ten championship game. Maryland finished third in the East with a 7-6 overall record and a 4-4 conference record, while Ohio State finished second in the East with a 12-1, 7-1 record.

Will this season follow the trend of the past two? Let’s take a look at this year’s returning offensive production.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Total Offense Ranking
Nebraska 88% 34
Minnesota 85% 103
Northwestern 82% 115
Rutgers 79% 84
Maryland 79% 87
Purdue 72% 95
Illinois 71% 88
Iowa 71% 72
Penn State 54% 105
Michigan 53% 69
Indiana 45% 14
Wisconsin 43% 79
Michigan State 38% 73
Ohio State 28% 41
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Scoring Offense Ranking
Nebraska 86% 43
Minnesota 85% 106
Maryland 78% 95
Northwestern 75% 114
Iowa 75% 54
Illinois 73% 103
Rutgers 72% 78
Purdue 69% 92
Wisconsin 60% 81
Penn State 54% 101
Michigan 54% 50
Michigan State 48% 60
Indiana 40% 24
Ohio State 32% 28

Nebraska is this year’s Maryland and Ohio State with the most returning production in the conference. That returning production falls in between the Terrapins and Buckeyes in terms of the previous season’s total offense rating (34th versus Ohio State’s 9th and Maryland’s 75th) and scoring offense rating (43rd versus OSU’s 5th and Maryland’s 84th). Both of those offensive units actually went backwards the following season even with so much returning production. Maryland slid 34 spots to 109th in total offense, while Ohio State slid seven spots to 41st. It is important to note that the Maryland comparison is apples to oranges since the Terps moved from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

The good news for Nebraska is that the offense returns quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who ranked second in the Big Ten in passing last season. In 2014, Maryland had to replace quarterback CJ Brown. Last season Ohio State returned J.T. Barrett, but Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tim Beck played musical chairs with he and Cardale Jones, which held the offense back from what could have been much more potent.

Minnesota returns the second most offensive production (85 percent) and scoring (85 percent) but ranked near the bottom nationally in both categories a year ago at 103rd and 106th, respectively. Aside from leading receiver K.J. Maye, everyone of importance is back for the Gophers offense. However, the offensive line returns just one player who started all 13 games, right tackle Jonah Pirsig. That means 115 career starts are gone and only a combined 37 return.

The next four teams with the most returning production are all pretty much in the same both. Northwestern (82/75 percent), Rutgers (79/72), Maryland (79/78), Purdue (72/69), and Illinois (71/73) return a lot of offense, but all five ranked between 84th and 115th nationally in total offense in 2015. All five return their primary quarterback, so that’s good news, but they all have too big a hill to climb to make a serious challenge for the Big Ten title.

Iowa returns 71 percent of its offense that ranked 72nd last season and 75 percent of its 54th-ranked scoring offense. Quarterback CJ Beathard figures to be one of the best in a down year at the position in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes have to replace leading rusher Jordan Canzeri and two of their top three receivers. Like Minnesota, Iowa has major losses to replace along the line with All-Big Ten performers, right guard Jordan Walsh and center Austin Blythe, taking 86 career starts with them to the NFL.

Penn State and Michigan are neck-and-neck in terms of returning offensive production this season. Penn State returns 54 percent of its offense and 54 percent of its scoring, while Michigan returns 54 and 53 percent, respectively. The big difference, however, is what that production accomplished in 2015. Michigan’s offense ranked 69th nationally and 50th in scoring, while Penn State’s ranked 105th and 101st. Both have to replace their starting quarterbacks, but all bets should be on Harbaugh to produce a better one than James Franklin. Michigan returns 72 percent of its rushing and 92 percent of its receiving, while Penn State returns 78 and 85.

Indiana and Wisconsin both return approximately the same (45 percent and 43 percent of offense respectively). Offense has never really been an issue for the Hoosiers under Kevin Wilson and there’s no reason to think this year will be much different. Defense is another story. More on that later. Wisconsin has to replace quarterback Joel Stave, more than 50 percent of its receiving production, and second-team All-Big Ten left tackle Tyler Marz.

Michigan State and Ohio State round out the returning offensive production. The Spartans bring back 38 percent of the nation’s 73rd-best offensive unit and 48 percent of the 60th-best scoring offense. They have to replace quarterback Connor Cook, 65 percent of their receiving production, and center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin’s combined 85 career starts. The three-headed rushing attack of L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London will have to carry the load until the passing game finds its stride.

Ohio State’s mass exodus for the NFL leaves just 28 percent of its offense and 32 percent of its scoring behind. The good news for Meyer is that he still has Barrett behind center without Jones to muddle things and the Big Ten media picked Barrett as the preseason offensive player of the year. The other good news is that Meyer’s recruiting dominance over the past few seasons means he has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Just how well it will step up is the question. Only 132 rushing yards return from the running back position (Barrett is the returning leader with 727) and only 19 percent of last season’s receiving yards return.

Stay tuned for our defensive breakdown and conclusions coming soon.

Michigan 72 – #10 Indiana 69: Bench leads Michigan to upset win over top-seed Indiana

Saturday, March 12th, 2016


Chatman vs Indiana(MGoBlue.com)

When the day started Michigan was staring a second straight NCAA Tournament absence square in the face. Now, the Wolverines are being fitted for their dancing shoes.

It took a near miracle for Michigan to survive Northwestern on Day 2 of the Big Ten Tournament, but 24 hours later, John Beilein’s crew knocked off the outright conference champs to advance to the semifinals.

For Friday’s win, the Wolverines certainly took the route less traveled.

On a day when point guard Derrick Walton went without a field goal and scored just two points, a pair of rarely-used bench options stepped up to salvage the season.

Moritz Wagner gave Michigan a huge boost off the bench, scoring nine points on a perfect 3-of-3 from the field and 2-of-2 from the charity stripe. He also ripped down a pair of offensive rebounds and played solid defense against an Indiana team that makes a living inside the paint.

Four Factors
Michigan Indiana
52 eFG% 49
29 OReb% 48
16 TO% 24
29 FTR 40

But Wagner’s effort may have been for naught without the last-second heroics of Kam Chatman, a former five-star recruit and starting forward turned bench warmer. Chatman, who forced his way back into the rotation with solid play down the stretch, found himself with the ball in his hands as the clock sped toward triple zeroes.

So he shot, and it’s a good thing he did.

Chatman’s contested three-pointer went in with 0.2 seconds left on the clock and gave Michigan a 72-69 lead.

His final line — 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal and 1 block — won’t jump off the box score, but the sophomore made the only play he needed to: The biggest shot of Michigan’s season in likely the program’s most important game since Aaron Harrison’s miracle shot bounced the Wolverines from the Elite 8 two years ago.

As fate would have it, Chatman was only in the game after Teddy ‘TV’ Valentine’s crew bounced Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman from the game with just over a minute to go. MAAR left the game with 15 points, second only to Zak Irvin, who scored 17 points on 5-13 shooting.

Irvin, a 61.8 percent free throw shooter, went a career best 6-of-6 from the line.

Walton, who made a field goal in all 28 of his regular season games this year, is without a bucket in 77 minutes during the Big Ten Tournament. Instead, he dished out a Big Ten tourney record 12 assists in the win over the Hoosiers, giving him 17 in the two games combined.

Duncan Robinson also had a tough shooting day — just 4 for 12 total and 1 for 6 from beyond the arc — but his last make was a big one, tying the game at 69 with under a minute to play. It was the second straight game Robinson hit a triple with Michigan trailing in the final minute.

Now Michigan will turn its attention to a Purdue team that obliterated Illinois by 31 points in Friday’s second matchup. The Wolverines split two meetings with the Boilermakers this season, but the inside trio of A.J. Hammons, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Hass will give a much smaller Michigan team fits.

Michigan allowed Indiana to grab 15 offensive rebounds Friday. Beilein will need to shore up that aspect before Saturday’s 1pm tip.

Another upset victory over Purdue would almost guarantee Michigan a spot in the NCAA Tournament. As it stands, the Wolverines are right on the cut line, along with teams like Syracuse, Florida, UCONN and Saint Mary’s.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 6-6 0-0 0-1 1 3 4 4 12 0 2 2 1 20
10 Derrick Walton* 0-3 0-3 2-2 1 2 3 1 2 12 2 0 2 36
21 Zak Irvin* 5-13 1-4 6-6 0 5 5 2 17 2 2 0 1 35
22 Duncan Robinson* 4-12 1-6 3-3 0 1 1 3 12 3 1 0 0 34
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman* 6-13 2-4 1-2 2 0 2 5 15 0 1 0 1 34
03 Kam Chatman 2-3 1-2 0-0 1 0 1 2 5 0 0 1 1 8
11 Andrew Dakich 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 4
13 Moritz Wagner 3-3 1-1 2-2 2 0 2 2 9 0 0 0 0 16
24 Aubrey Dawkins 0-2 0-1 0-0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 9
32 Ricky Doyle 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Totals 26-56 6-21 14-16 9 16 25 20 72 18 10 3 7 200
Indiana 24-53 4-17 17-21 15 22 37 17 69 13 15 7 6
200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: #10 (1) Indiana

Friday, March 11th, 2016


UM-Indiana
Michigan vs #10 Indiana
Friday, March 11 | Indianapolis, Ind.. | 12 p.m. ET | ESPN
Line: Indiana -6
Offense
74.8 Points/gm 82.7
(849-1,809) 46.9 Field Goal % 50.2 (910-1,811)
(314-803) 39.1 3-pt FG % 41.9 (312-745)
(383-520) 73.7 Free Throw % 72.0 (432-600)
12.0 FT Made/gm 13.9
32.4 Reb/gm 37.4
14.9 Assists/gm 16.1
9.8 Turnovers/gm 13.6
Defense
67.2 Points/gm 68.8
(791-1,788) 44.2 Field Goal % 44.1 (795-1,803)
(232-666) 34.8 3-pt FG % 34.5 (194-562)
32.6 Opp. Reb/gm 30.3
5.5 Steals/gm 7.0
2.2 Blocks/gm 3.9
Individual Leaders
Caris LeVert (16.5), Derrick Walton (11.9) Points/gm Yogi Ferrell (17.1), James Blackmon Jr. (15.8)
Derick Walton (5.7), Caris LeVert (5.3) Reb/gm Troy Williams (6.0), Thomas Bryant (5.8)

Michigan stayed alive with a 72-70 overtime win over Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon. Their reward? A matchup with Big Ten champion Indiana, who beat the Wolverines 80-67 on Feb. 2 in the season’s only meeting to date.

The Hoosiers have high hopes of making a deep NCAA Tournament run after winning the outright Big Ten title and look to capture the Big Ten Tournament crown as well. Michigan can clinch an at-large bid with an upset of Indiana, but will likely have to settle for the NIT if they lose.

Senior guard Yogi Ferrell led Indiana with 17 points and nine assist in the first meeting, while sophomore guard Robert Johnson added 16 points. Ferrell is the Hoosiers’ unquestioned leader, averaging 17.1 points per game, but Johnson has missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain he suffered against Purdue on Feb. 20.

Freshman forward OG Anunoby came off the bench to match his season-high of 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and senior guard Nick Zeisloft — a three-point specialist — scored eight.

Michigan made just 7-of-23 three-point attempts in that first meeting and will need to do better than that if they want a chance of winning. More importantly, Michigan must play with the same defensive intensity that it did against Northwestern on Thursday. Indiana made 33 shots in that first meeting — only 10-of-30 from downtown — and if Michigan can’t hold the Hoosiers below 27 field goals today they’ll find themselves in the NIT next week.

Big Ten Tournament bracket set, Michigan to face Northwestern

Sunday, March 6th, 2016


Big Ten Tournament

The Big Ten Tournament gets under way on Wednesday with Minnesota against Illinois and Rutgers against Nebraska. The top two seeds, Indiana and Michigan State, get double byes into the quarterfinals and won’t play until Friday.

Michigan (20-11, 10-8) will face ninth-seed Northwestern (20-11, 8-10) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at 12pm on Thursday in Indianapolis. A win would pit the Wolverines against top-seed Indiana at noon on Friday.

Michigan won the season’s only matchup against Northwestern, 72-63, on Feb. 24. The Wolverines made just four three-pointers in that game, but outscored the Wildcats 20-5 at the free throw line. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Derrick Walton added 16 and Aubrey Dawkins 11.

Northwestern, meanwhile, has won three straight since that loss, beating Rutgers, Penn State, and Nebraska by an average of 20 points. In the first meeting, Michigan had no answer for Alex Olah, who scored 19 points, while Tre Demps and Aaron Falzon each scored 14.

Big Ten Tournament
First Four First Round Quarterfinals Semifinals Championship Champion
Wed, Mar. 9 Thu, Mar. 10 Fri, Mar. 11 Sat, Mar. 12 Sun, Mar. 13
9. Northwestern 70
12pm BTN 8. Michigan 72
8. Michigan 72 12pm ESPN 8. Michigan
1. Indiana 69
13. Minnesota 52
4:30pm ESPN2 12. Illinois 68 1pm CBS
12. Illinois 85 2:25 BTN 12. Illinois 58
5. Iowa 66 2:25pm ESPN 4. Purdue
4. Purdue 89
10. Penn State 75  3pm CBS
6:30pm ESPN2 7. Ohio State 54
7. Ohio State 79 6:30pm BTN 2. Michigan State
2. Michigan State 81
14. Rutgers 72 3:30pm CBS
7pm BTN 11. Nebraska 70
11. Nebraska 89 8:55pm ESPN2 11. Nebraska 86
6. Wisconsin 58 8:55pm BTN 3. Maryland
3. Maryland 97

Big Ten hoops power rankings: March 1

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016


Power Rankings_header

Michigan State held onto the top spot this week, while Iowa plummeted to sixth following their third straight loss. Indiana moved up to second after clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title, while Wisconsin continued its ascension up to third this week.

Michigan remained eighth and finds itself on paper thin ice as far as NCAA Tournament hopes are concerned. The Wolverines may need a win over Iowa and at least one in the Big Ten Tournament to earn an at-large bid.

Penn State stayed in the ninth spot, while Northwestern jumped one and Illinois jumped two to 10th and 11th, respectively. Nebraska, Minnesota, and Rutgers fill out the cellar.

“Another week, another missed opportunity for Michigan,” said Derick. “Now it’ll take a win over a desperate Iowa team on Senior Night to limp into the Big Dance.”

1. Michigan State (24-5, 11-5) – Even – 1.0 (Last week: 1.7)
MichiganStateLogo
Last Week: Beat Ohio State 81-62, Beat Penn State 88-57
This Week: Wednesday at Rutgers, Saturday vs Ohio State
MSU 3-1-16
RPI: 14 | Best win: Nov. 17 vs #4 Kansas (79-73) | Worst loss: Jan. 20 vs Nebraska (70-71)
2. Indiana (23-6, 13-3) – Up 1 – 2.7 (Last week: 3.7)
IU logo
Last Week: Beat Illinois 74-47
This Week: Tuesday at #16 Iowa, Sunday vs #14 Maryland
Indiana 3-1-16
RPI: 27 | Best win: Feb. 11 vs #4 Iowa (85-78) | Worst loss: Nov. 23 vs Wake Forest (78-82)
3. Wisconsin (19-10, 11-5) – Up 2 – 3.0 (Last week: 4.7)
Wisconsin logo
Last Week: Beat #8 Iowa 67-59, Beat Michigan 58-57
This Week: Wednesday at Minnesota, Sunday at #15 Purdue
Wisconsin 3-1-16
RPI: 33 | Best win: Feb. 13 at #2 Maryland (70-57) | Worst loss: Nov. 13 vs Western Illinois (67-69)
4. Maryland (23-6, 11-5) – Even – 4.0 (Last week 4.3)
maryland-logo
Last Week: Lost at #20 Purdue 79-83
This Week: Thursday vs Illinois, Sunday at #12 Indiana
Maryland 3-1-16
RPI: 10 | Best win: Jan. 28 vs #3 Iowa (74-68) | Worst loss: Feb. 18 at Minnesota (63-68)
5. Purdue (22-7, 10-6) – Up 1 – 4.7 (Last week: 6.3)
Purdue logo
Last Week: Beat #10 Maryland 83-79
This Week: Tuesday at Nebraska, Sunday vs Wisconsin
Purdue 3-1-16
RPI: 18 | Best win: Feb. 9 vs #8 Michigan State (82-81 OT) | Worst loss: Jan. 10 at Illinois (70-84)
6. Iowa (20-8, 11-5) – Down 4 – 5.7 (Last week: 2.0)
Iowa logo
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 59-67, Lost at Ohio State 64-68
This Week: Tuesday vs #12 Indiana, Saturday at Michigan
Iowa 3-1-16
RPI: 22 | Best win: Jan. 14 at #4 Michigan State (76-59) | Worst loss: Feb. 17 at Penn State (75-79)
7. Ohio State (19-11, 11-6) – Even – 7.3 (Last week: 7.0)
Ohio State logo new
Last Week: Lost to #6 Michigan State 62-81, Beat #8 Iowa 68-64
This Week: Saturday at #2 Michigan State
Ohio State 3-1-16
RPI: 74 | Best win: Dec. 19 vs #4 Kentucky (74-67) | Worst loss: Jan. 10 at Illinois (70-84)
8. Michigan (20-10, 10-7) – Even – 7.7 (Last week: 7.7)
Maize M
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 72-63, Lost at Wisconsin 57-68
This Week: Saturday vs #16 Iowa
Michigan 3-1-16
RPI: 57 | Best win: Jan. 12 vs #3 Maryland (70-67) | Worst loss: Feb. 16 at Ohio State (66-76)
9. Penn State (15-14, 6-10) – Even – 9.7 (Last week: 9.0)
Penn State Logo
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 56-55, Lost at 6 Michigan State 57-88
This Week: Thursday vs Northwestern, Sunday vs Illinois
Penn State 3-1-16
RPI: 98 | Best win: Feb. 17 vs #4 Iowa (79-75) | Worst loss: Nov. 24 vs Radford (74-86)
10. Northwestern (18-11, 6-10) – Up 1 – 10.0 (Last week: 11.0)
NorthwesternLogo
Last Week: Lost at Michigan 63-72, Beat Rutgers 98-59
This Week: Thursday at Penn State, Sunday vs Nebraska
Northwestern 3-1-16
RPI: 121 | Best win: Jan. 12 vs Wisconsin (70-65) | Worst loss: Jan. 16 vs Penn State (62-71)
11. Illinois (13-16, 5-11) – Up 2 – 10.3 (Last week: 12.7)
IllinoisLogo
Last Week: Lost to #18 Indiana 47-74, Beat Minnesota 84-71
This Week: Thursday at #14 Maryland, Sunday at Penn State
Illinois 3-1-16
RPI: 163 | Best win: Jan 10 vs #10 Purdue (84-70) | Worst loss: Nov. 13 vs North Florida (81-93)
12. Nebraska (14-15, 6-10) – Down 2 – 12.0 (Last week: 10.0)
Nebraska logo
Last Week: Lost at Penn State 55-56
This Week: Tuesday vs #15 Purdue, Sunday at Northwestern
Nebraska 3-1-16
RPI: 169 | Best win: Jan. 20 at #11 Michigan State (72-71) | Worst loss: Dec. 20 vs Samford (58-69)
13. Minnesota (8-20, 2-14) – Down 1 – 12.3 (Last week: 13.0)
Minnesota-Logo
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 83-61, Lost at Illinois 71-84
This Week: Wednesday vs Wisconsin, Saturday at Rutgers
Minnesota 3-1-16
RPI: 239 | Best win: Feb. 18 vs #6 Maryland (68-63) | Worst loss: Dec. 5 vs South Dakota (81-85 2OT)
14. Rutgers (6-23, 0-16) – Even – 14.0 (Last week: 14.0)
Rutgers logo
Last Week: Lost at Minnesota 61-83, Lost at Northwestern 59-98
This Week: Wednesday vs #2 Michigan State, Saturday vs Minnesota
Rutgers 3-1-16
RPI: 283 | Best win: Dec. 23 vs Fairleigh Dickinson (72-64) | Worst loss: Nov. 19 vs St. John’s (59-61)

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Feb. 23

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016


Power Rankings_header

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new leader. For the first time since we began our power rankings on Jan. 19, Iowa has been dethroned from the top spot. Although they are two and a half games back in the Big Ten standings, Michigan State made the move to the top of our power rankings. The Spartans have climbed from six to five to two to one over the last four weeks. Since dropping three in a row in mid-January, Izzo’s squad has won six of their last seven — the lone blemish a one-point overtime loss at Purdue — and look to be rounding into form just in time to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa fell to number two after losing at Penn State, while Indiana, who holds a half-game lead over Iowa, moved up two spots thanks to a win over rival Purdue. Wisconsin continued its surge up the rankings, moving to the fifth spot, while Michigan continued its slide, all the way down to eighth. Minnesota broke out of the 13th spot for the first time in our rankings, thanks to an improbably upset of sixth-ranked Maryland, switching spots with Illinois, and ruining what would have been a thrilling battle of winless teams with Rutgers on Tuesday.

“This week was not a good one for Michigan,” said Derick. “After a win over Purdue seemingly set the stage for a coast into the tournament, the Wolverines laid an egg in Columbus and fell just short of an upset in Maryland. Now Michigan has three remaining must-win games: Wednesday vs. Northwestern, either at Wisconsin or against Iowa, and the first matchup in the Big Ten tournament. If that sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is.”

1. Michigan State (22-5, 9-5) – Up 1 – 1.7 (Last week: 2.0)
MichiganStateLogo
Last Week: Beat Wisconsin 69-57
This Week: Tuesday at Ohio State, Sunday vs Penn State
MSU 2-23-16
RPI: 16 | Best win: Nov. 17 vs #4 Kansas (79-73) | Worst loss: Jan. 20 vs Nebraska (70-71)
2. Iowa (20-6, 11-3) – Down 1 – 2.0 (Last week: 1.0)
Iowa logo
Last Week: Lost at Penn State 75-79
This Week: Wednesday vs Wisconsin, Sunday at Ohio State
Iowa 2-23-16
RPI: 13 | Best win: Jan. 14 at #4 Michigan State (76-59) | Worst loss: Feb. 17 at Penn State (75-79)
3. Indiana (22-6, 12-3) – Up 2 – 2.3 (Last week: 3.7)
IU logo
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 80-64, Beat #17 Purdue 77-73
This Week: Thursday at Illinois
Indiana 2-23-16
RPI: 29 | Best win: Feb. 11 vs #4 Iowa (85-78) | Worst loss: Nov. 23 vs Wake Forest (78-82)
4. Maryland (23-5, 11-4) – Down 1 – 4.3 (Last week 3.5)
maryland-logo
Last Week: Lost at Minnesota 63-68, Beat Michigan 86-82
This Week: Saturday at #20 Purdue
Maryland 2-23-16
RPI: 9 | Best win: Jan. 28 vs #3 Iowa (74-68) | Worst loss: Feb. 18 at Minnesota (63-68)
5. Wisconsin (17-10, 9-5) – Up 1 – 4.7 (Last week: 6.0)
Wisconsin logo
Last Week: Lost at #8 Michigan State 57-69, Beat Illinois 69-60
This Week: Wednesday at #8 Iowa, Sunday vs Michigan
Wisconsin 2-23-16
RPI: 45 | Best win: Feb. 13 at #2 Maryland (70-57) | Worst loss: Nov. 13 vs Western Illinois (67-69)
6. Purdue (21-7, 9-6) – Down 2 – 6.3 (Last week: 4.0)
Purdue logo
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 71-61, Lost at #22 Indiana 73-77
This Week: Saturday vs #10 Maryland
Purdue 2-23-16
RPI: 23 | Best win: Feb. 9 vs #8 Michigan State (82-81 OT) | Worst loss: Jan. 10 at Illinois (70-84)
7. Ohio State (18-10, 10-5) – Up 1 – 7.0 (Last week: 7.7)
Ohio State logo new
Last Week: Beat Michigan 79-66, Beat Nebraska 65-62 (OT)
This Week: Tuesday vs #6 Michigan State, Sunday vs #8 Iowa
Ohio State 2-23-16
RPI: 76 | Best win: Dec. 19 vs #4 Kentucky (74-67) | Worst loss: Jan. 10 at Illinois (70-84)
8. Michigan (19-9, 9-6) – Down 1 – 7.7 (Last week: 7.3)
Maize M
Last Week: Lost at Ohio State 66-76, Lost at #6 Maryland 82-86
This Week: Wednesday vs Northwestern, Sunday at Wisconsin
Michigan 2-23-16
RPI: 57 | Best win: Jan. 12 vs #3 Maryland (70-67) | Worst loss: Feb. 16 at Ohio State (66-76)
9. Penn State (14-13, 5-9) – Up 2 – 9.0 (Last week: 10.3)
Penn State Logo
Last Week: Beat #4 Iowa 79-75, Beat Rutgers 70-58
This Week: Thursday vs Nebraska, Sunday at #6 Michigan State
Penn State 2-23-16
RPI: 101 | Best win: Feb. 17 vs #4 Iowa (79-75) | Worst loss: Nov. 24 vs Radford (74-86)
10. Nebraska (14-14, 6-9) – Even – 10.0 (Last week: 10.0)
Nebraska logo
Last Week: Lost at #22 Indiana 64-80, Lost to Ohio State 62-65 (OT)
This Week: Thursday at Penn State
Nebraska 2-23-16
RPI: 161 | Best win: Jan. 20 at #11 Michigan State (72-71) | Worst loss: Dec. 20 vs Samford (58-69)
11. Northwestern (17-10, 5-9) – Down 2 – 11.0 (Last week: 9.0)
NorthwesternLogo
Last Week: Lost at #17 Purdue 61-71
This Week: Wednesday at Michigan, Saturday vs Rutgers
Northwestern 2-23-16
RPI: 108 | Best win: Jan. 12 vs Wisconsin (70-65) | Worst loss: Jan. 16 vs Penn State (62-71)
12. Minnesota (7-19, 1-13) – Up 1 – 12.3 (Last week: 13.0)
Minnesota-Logo
Last Week: Beat #6 Maryland 68-63
This Week: Tuesday vs Rutgers, Sunday at Illinois
Minnesota 2-23-16
RPI: 222 | Best win: Feb. 18 vs #6 Maryland (68-63) | Worst loss: Dec. 5 vs South Dakota (81-85 2OT)
13. Illinois (12-15, 4-10) – Down 1 – 12.7 (Last week: 12.0)
IllinoisLogo
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 82-66, Lost at Wisconsin 60-69
This Week: Thursday vs #18 Indiana, Sunday vs Minnesota
Illinios 2-23-16
RPI: 153 | Best win: Jan 10 vs #10 Purdue (84-70) | Worst loss: Nov. 13 vs North Florida (81-93)
14. Rutgers (6-21, 0-14) – Even – 14.0 (Last week: 14.0)
Rutgers logo
Last Week: Lost at Illinois 66-82, Lost to Penn State 58-70
This Week: Tuesday at Minnesota, Saturday at Northwestern
Rutgers 2-23-16
RPI: 275 | Best win: Dec. 23 vs Fairleigh Dickinson (72-64) | Worst loss: Nov. 19 vs St. John’s (59-61)

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Feb. 16

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016


Power Rankings_header

Iowa held onto the top spot yet again, but the top six all beat each other last week making for a little bit of movement. Michigan State is the biggest riser of the week, climbing three spots to second. Spots four through eight and the bottom three remain the same from last week.

“The top of the Big Ten is starting to get muddled…which must mean March is close,” said Sam. “Iowa holds onto the top spot for me despite dropping a game at Assembly Hall, Michigan State moves up despite losing at Mackey, and Maryland drops a bit after getting blown out at home by Wisconsin. The Badgers continue to climb my power rankings and seem poised to get a seventh Big Dance bid for the conference. Michigan, meanwhile, had a huge bounceback week capped with a tough win over Purdue at home, but Purdue’s win over MSU at home keeps them ahead of the Wolverines. This is going to be fun.”

1. Iowa (20-5, 11-2) – Even – 1.0 (Last week: 1.3)
Last Week: Lost at Indiana 78-85, Beat Minnesota 75-71
This Week: Wednesday at Penn State
2. Michigan State (21-5, 8-5) – Up 3 – 2.0 (Last week: 4.3)
Last Week: Lost at #18 Purdue 81-82 (OT), Beat Indiana 88-69
This Week: Thursday vs Wisconsin
3. Maryland (22-4, 10-3) – Down 1 – 3.5 (Last week: 1.7)
Last Week: Beat Bowie State 93-62, Lost to Wisconsin 57-70
This Week: Thursday at Minnesota, Sunday vs Michigan
4. Purdue (20-6, 8-5) – Even – 4.5 (Last week 4.0)
Last Week: Beat #8 Michigan State 82-81 (OT), Lost at Michigan 56-61
This Week: Tuesday vs Northwestern, Saturday at #22 Indiana
5. Indiana (20-6, 10-3) – Even – 5.0 (Last week: 3.7)
Last Week: Beat #4 Iowa 85-78, Lost at #8 Michigan State 69-88
This Week: Wednesday vs Nebraska, Saturday vs #17 Purdue
6. Wisconsin (16-9, 8-4) – Even – 5.5 (Last week: 6.0)
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 72-61, Beat #2 Maryland 70-57
This Week: Thursday at #8 Michigan State, Sunday vs Illinois
7. Michigan (19-7, 9-4) – Even – 6.5 (Last week: 7.3)
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 82-74, Beat #18 Purdue 61-56
This Week: Tuesday at Ohio State, Sunday at #6 Maryland
8. Ohio State (16-10, 8-5) – Even – 8.0 (Last week: 7.7)
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 71-63, Beat Rutgers 79-69
This Week: Tuesday vs Michigan, Saturday at Nebraska
9. Northwestern (17-9, 5-8) – Up 2 – 9.0 (Last week: 10.7)
Last Week: Lost at Ohio State 63-71, Beat Illinois 58-56
This Week: Tuesday at #17 Purdue
10. Nebraska (14-12, 6-7) – Down 1 – 10.0 (Last week: 9.0)
Last Week: Lost at Wisconsin 61-72, Beat Penn State 70-54
This Week: Wednesday at #22 Indiana, Saturday vs Ohio State
11. Penn State (12-13, 3-9) – Down 1 – 11.0 (Last week: 10.3)
Last Week: Lost at Nebraska 54-70
This Week: Wednesday vs #4 Iowa, Saturday at Rutgers
12. Illinois (11-14, 3-9) – Even – 12.0 (Last week: 12.0)
Last Week: Lost at Northwestern 56-58
This Week: Tuesday vs Rutgers, Saturday at Wisconsin
13. Minnesota (6-19, 0-13) – Even – 13.0 (Last week: 13.0)
Last Week: Lost to Michigan 74-82, Lost at #4 Iowa 71-75
This Week: Thursday vs #6 Maryland
14. Rutgers (6-19, 0-12) – Even – 14.0 (Last week: 14.0)
Last Week: Lost to Ohio State 69-79
This Week: Tuesday at Illinois, Saturday vs Penn State

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Feb. 9

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016


Power Rankings_header

The top two teams remain the same this week, but Michigan took a three spot tumble thanks to blowout losses to Indiana and Michigan State. The bottom seven remain essentially the same.

“Michigan is unsurprisingly the big faller this week after being the janitor’s mop,” said Sam. “Not many other changes, though Penn State maybe had the most unexpected victory of the week by beating Indiana at home. Purdue has a huge week with games at Michigan State and Michigan in the coming days that should give further insight there, while Iowa continues to roll with Maryland lurking just behind.”

“The big mover in this week’s rankings is obviously Michigan,” said Derick. “The Wolverines looked like a Big Ten contender halfway through the conference schedule, but got bombed by Indiana and MSU at home. Caris LeVert isn’t playing, but even with its star player, Michigan has shown it isn’t competitive with upper-tier teams this season.”

1. Iowa (19-4, 10-1) – Even – 1.3 (Last week: 1.3)
Last Week: Beat Penn State 73-49, Beat Illinois 77-65
This Week: Thursday at Indiana, Sunday vs Minnesota
2. Maryland (21-3, 10-2) – Even – 1.7 (Last week: 1.7)
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 70-65, Beat #18 Purdue 72-61
This Week: Tuesday vs Bowie State, Saturday vs Wisconsin
3. Indiana (19-5, 9-2) – Up 1 – 3.7 (Last week: 3.0)
Last Week: Beat Michigan 80-63, Lost at Penn State 63-68
This Week: Thursday vs #4 Iowa, Sunday at #8 Michigan State
4. Purdue (19-5, 7-4) – Up 2 – 4.0 (Last week 5.7)
Last Week: Lost at #4 Maryland 61-72
This Week: Tuesday vs #8 Michigan State, Saturday at Michigan
5. Michigan State (20-4, 7-4) – Even – 4.3 (Last week: 5.3)
Last Week: Beat Michigan 89-73
This Week: Tuesday at #18 Purdue, Sunday vs Indiana
6. Wisconsin (14-9, 6-4) – Up 1 – 6.0 (Last week: 7.0)
Last Week: Beat Ohio State 79-68
This Week: Wednesday vs Nebraska, Saturday at #2 Maryland
7. Michigan (17-7, 7-4) – Down 3 – 7.3 (Last week: 4.0)
Last Week: Lost to #22 Indiana 67-80, Lost to #10 Michigan State 73-89
This Week: Wednesday at Minnesota, Saturday vs #18 Purdue
8. Ohio State (14-10, 6-5) – Even – 7.7 (Last week: 8.0)
Last Week: Lost at Wisconsin 68-79
This Week: Tuesday vs Northwestern, Saturday at Rutgers
9. Nebraska (13-11, 5-6) – Even – 9.0 (Last week: 9.0)
Last Week: Lost to #4 Maryland 65-70, Beat Rutgers 87-63
This Week: Wednesday at Wisconsin, Saturday vs Penn State
10. Penn State (12-12, 3-8) – Up 1 – 10.3 (Last week: 12.0)
Last Week: Lost at #5 Iowa 49-73, Beat #22 Indiana 68-63
This Week: Saturday at Nebraska
11. Northwestern (16-8, 4-7) – Down 1 – 10.7 (Last week: 10.7)
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 82-58
This Week: Tuesday at Ohio State, Saturday vs Illinois
12. Illinois (11-13, 3-8) – Even – 12.0 (Last week: 11.3)
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 110-101 (3OT), Lost to #5 Iowa 65-77
This Week: Saturday at Northwestern
13. Minnesota (6-17, 0-11) – Even – 13.0 (Last week: 13.0)
Last Week: Lost at Northwestern 58-82
This Week: Wednesday vs Michigan, Sunday at #4 Iowa
14. Rutgers (6-18, 0-11) – Even – 14.0 (Last week: 14.0)
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 103-110 (3OT), Lost at Nebraska 63-87
This Week: Saturday vs Ohio State

After a horrid week for Michigan hoops, is it time to panic?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016


Beilein vs MSU(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

I didn’t write about Michigan’s two basketball games this past week; I simply couldn’t bring myself to. We all know what happened – Michigan got romped twice in their own gym and looked lifeless outside of about five minutes against Indiana and a few moments when the Wolverines’ bench warmers made some brutal losses look just a little better on the final stat sheet.

I’ve never tried to hide that I’m a very passionate Michigan basketball fan first and a Michigan basketball blogger second. After all, I used to be the president of the Maize Rage and have been going to games at Crisler since some time around the turn of the century.

So when the Wolverines suffer a gut-wrenching loss (think Josh Gasser’s banked three at the buzzer in 2011 or Evan Turner’s last second heave in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament) or get their asses flattened like pancakes pounded by a spatula after being removed from the griddle (think, well, both those “games” last week), I usually struggle to bring myself to settle my emotions enough to bring fingers to keyboard.

But I thought I should ramble a little about how I feel now after digesting those losses, throwing them up, and taking some antacid.

By the way, the final deficits against Indiana and Michigan State were 13 and 16, respectively, but probably would have more accurately reflected the nature of the games if those numbers were doubled.

Hopefully the Selection Committee takes a look at the final score of each game and says “well those are bad losses but not that bad!” and then proceeds to put Michigan somewhere other than Dayton, Spokane, or Oklahoma City (if they make it, I’m hoping to go to their first round game, but I would rather it not actually be a First Round game, if you know what I mean).

In reality, we all know that those losses were that bad. Like really that bad.

As Rafiki says, however, “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past!” Michigan can’t change the disaster that happened last week, but they can hopefully learn a bit from them and pave the way for a brighter future.

So what’s to learn about those two games that people are certainly, definitely, NOT AT ALL panicking about?

Well, let’s rationalize a bit to begin. Indiana and Michigan State are two very good teams that played excellent games (I’m not going to reference many stats in this column because of how skewed the numbers are over the stretch, but any time two teams combine to make 56 percent of their shots in a given week, that’s some good play). They have combined to win 81.3 percent of their matchups so far this season and have beaten some good teams. They are both shoo-ins for the Big Dance, and they’ll probably embarrass a couple other teams not named Michigan going forward (do not pay any attention to Indiana’s game at Penn State).

For those rough games, Michigan still does not have a bad loss to show on their record – and I honestly don’t expect margin of defeat to come into play on Selection Sunday. They also have a couple very good wins on their resume and could add to their two top-100 RPI wins with victories they have already acquired earlier this season, should Penn State or North Carolina State climb up a few spots. For now, the Wolverines still look like relatively safe bets to make the Tournament.

If you are one of the many Michigan fans teetering on the edge right now, please take a step back, then another. It’s not time to panic just yet. If Michigan comes home from Minneapolis with a loss on Ash Wednesday, though, I give you full permission to run forward and jump.

Bench vs MSU(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

Anyway, about those games.

The Wolverines actually came out looking very good against Indiana last Tuesday, jumping out to an early 11-point lead and threatening to run away from the Hoosiers. Things quickly erupted though, and before the halftime horn mercifully blew in a dead silent Crisler Center, Michigan found itself on the wrong end of a 25-0 run and a 21-point deficit.

Before they could throw a counter punch, the Wolverines were knocked out by a savage Indiana offense. So what happened? Ultimately, the Hoosiers took advantage of Michigan’s poor transition defense, the Wolverines panicked and began turning the ball over and missing ill-advised shots so bad that they may as well also have been turnovers, and by halftime, the Wolverines were in a complete state of shock. Effectively, it was game over. To rub salt in the already gaping wound that caused the knockout, Tom Crean quickly mentioned former Michigan player Max Bielfeldt as a reason for Indiana’s terrific play. That, of course, was mostly garbage – Bielfeldt finished with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting (the worst percentage for any Hoosier that attempted a shot) in 18 minutes – but stung nonetheless. The stated reason Crean praised Bielfeldt was for his excellent first half plus/minus rating, which was absolutely comical given that just about every Indiana player had a through-the-roof first half plus/minus.

As soon as that panic set in, Michigan’s offense – which, again, came out firing on all cylinders – devolved into what looked like a typical eighth grade offense, with guys trying to play hero ball and failing miserably. Indiana capitalized, with six of their buckets (good for 15 points) down the stretch in the first half coming within 10 seconds of a Michigan miss or turnover, and a couple others coming off of terrible looks or turnovers as well.

Michigan is simply not good enough to overcome a shocking run like that, and Indiana simply could not miss for quite a long stretch. Further, the Wolverines are lacking their best individual playmaker, their primary facilitator, and their presumed leader. That recipe, combined with a seeming lack of confidence once things get bad for the Maize and Blue, is a recipe for disaster, and disaster is what descended upon Ann Arbor. In my opinion, it was one of those games where you almost have to say “it happens” and move on. Obviously it was a poor, poor result and an even worse performance, but I don’t place too much blame on the coaching staff.

I can’t say the same for the Michigan State loss. Coming off the tough-pill-to-swallow beatdown against Indiana, Michigan was certainly going to be a bit wary and perhaps high-strung or nervous with their in-state rivals coming to town playing much better than them (as an aside, players will never admit to paying close attention to other teams, or to keeping track of their ranking, or to listening to talking heads’ opinion of their team, but they absolutely do).

Unfortunately, I do not believe the coaching staff put the Wolverines in position to win.

Now don’t get me wrong. Michigan State is a very good team, and has been for many seasons. They are a tough, physical team, and perhaps not the best matchup for a Michigan team that usually plays with more finesse than physicality.

But the Spartans are also fairly easy to gameplan for in my opinion. This year, Michigan State has one guy who can do it all on offense and is dangerous any time he’s on the floor. That player, of course is Denzel Valentine. He’s an All-Everything senior that is a phenomenal passer, a very good shooter, and an excellent rebounder for his size as well. There is one other player, Eron Harris, who is fairly multi-dimensional, with the ability to drive, pass, shoot, get fouled, etc. But Harris is also prone to fits of erraticism and is not quite the shooter, finisher, or passer that Valentine is, and turns the ball over more than Valentine while handling the ball less.

Meanwhile, the Spartans also boast some excellent offensive complementary pieces that, while key to their success, are a little more one-dimensional. Bryn Forbes is an outstanding spot-up shooter that doesn’t do much more than shoot the three-ball. Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis are a load to handle down low, but neither is a threat to score from more than 12 feet away. Matt McQuaid is a plus shooter but does not shoot much while big men Kenny Goins and Gavin Schilling are basically the same players as Costello and Davis but both significant downgrades.

How do you beat, or at least challenge, the Spartans then? If Valentine proves too difficult to handle, so be it – you have to grin and bear it. He’s one of the best players in the country and can break down any defense. If Harris drives his way into some fouls and knocks down a couple deep shots, shrug your shoulders. But you absolutely CANNOT let Bryn Forbes get wide open and kill you from deep.

And that’s exactly what happened. Forbes had 23 points – seven triples and another long two – by halftime to Michigan’s 28 total. Of his eight makes, Forbes may have had a Wolverine within three feet of him once or twice.

Bryn Forbes(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

That is a lack of effort, a lack of effective defense, and also a lack of a competent defensive gameplan. Michigan came out in a soft man defense that showed little urgency in sticking with Forbes – again, one of the more lethal shooters in the country – and paid dearly for it. Duncan Robinson was a primary culprit, running under screens and getting completely stone-walled by picks, but the coaching staff deserves equal blame for allowing Michigan State to come out and drain 10 very mildly contested threes in a single half.

About midway through the first half, when it was clear that the Wolverines had completely missed the mark on the scouting report, Beilein switched to a 1-3-1 zone in an attempt to keep another game spiraling quickly out of control within striking distance.

It was fine for a change of pace, and it even managed to flummox the Spartans into making a couple dumb mistakes. But Michigan went back to it after those couple mistakes, which Michigan State was ecstatic to see. The Spartans promptly drained a triple, and when the Wolverines inexplicably went back to the zone yet again, they made another. And another. And another.

I have never seen Beilein look so helpless, but the answer in slowing Michigan State’s offense was never going to come by playing zone for an extended period of time. Michigan State is simply too good of a shooting team to fall prey.

Perhaps most frustrating about the decision to play zone for so long is that the 1-3-1 zone is not designed to limit shooting whatsoever. Rather, it’s designed to confuse the offense, create turnovers, and prevent easy driving buckets. Michigan State was not killing Michigan with easy buckets at the hoop; they were killing the Wolverines from beyond the arc. So instead of switching up the gameplan and sticking the best perimeter defender Michigan has – probably Derrick Walton at this point – onto Forbes and instructing him to not let the senior transfer touch the ball, Beilein inexplicably switched to a zone that is prone to giving up wide open shots from deep. And give up shots the zone did.

By the time halftime arrived – again again by the grace of God – Michigan was pretty much out of the picture and sapped of any confidence that once existed. Of course, the Wolverines moved to a more aggressive man defense in the second half, with Walton face-guarding Forbes, to open the second half. But it was too late. The lack of a first half adjustment failed the team.

In the aftermath of the second straight embarrassment at home, Michigan fans across the blogosphere at Twittersphere began (yet again) calling for Beilein’s head.

To that, I merely say this: stop it. Yes, Michigan got beat bad twice in a row. And yes, perhaps it could have been mitigated by some better coaching decisions.

But if you want people to take you seriously, you must first think and act rationally. John Beilein is one of the best things to happen to the Michigan basketball program in quite a long time. I don’t need to run through his list of accolades and accomplishments since taking over the program in the 2007-’08 season.

So I pray that many of those calling for his firing are uninformed tweens that have known nothing but success over the majority of Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, and expect Michigan to be dominant each year. Unfortunately, those are unrealistic expectations for all but a few fan bases in the country.

It’s even more unrealistic to expect that when a team is missing their unquestioned best player and a key secondary piece. Both of those guys, of course, are seniors – Michigan’s only seniors heading into this season. And if you don’t understand the value of seniors in this day of overhyped freshmen in college basketball, I suggest you listen to what Tom Izzo had to say after his team’s triumphant victory on Saturday.

Take a look at any top team in the country and you’ll likely find that a senior (or two or three) is the driving force behind the success. Guys like Buddy Hield, Isaiah Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Jared Uthoff, Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Perry Ellis, Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, and so many more are guys that make teams tick.

Michigan’s two seniors are currently watching from the bench. Hopefully they get one of them back soon, but in the meantime, patience and understanding are highly advised.

Crappy performances happen in college basketball. Shots fall and don’t fall, players make mistakes and lose confidence. Teams lose, sometimes badly, and coaches make mistakes too.

Still, Michigan is probably going to be okay. They had a couple big hiccups and they have some recovering and rebounding to do, but it’s not the end of the world, and it’s certainly not time to overreact after losing two games in which the projected outcomes were pretty much coin flips.

There are more opportunities on the way, and I believe that John Beilein will have an answer.

I, at least, have a good feeling about the two games this week.

The past is over. Let’s play on.