Preview: The Battle for Michigan

It is upon us. For my poorly fleshed-out thoughts on the deeper meaning of the game, check out this morning’s post.

University of Detroit Mercy Titans Michigan Wolverines lacrosse ticket

It is time.

Michigan v. Detroit

1 p.m. Feb. 12, 2012
Pontiac, Mich.
Streaming video ($$$)
Gametracker stats

Detroit Offense v. Michigan Defense

I’ve maligned the Detroit offense for not being an assist-heavy outfit early in the season, despite the chemistry that should exist between lifelong pals Shayne Adams and Joel Matthews. Against Michigan, however, the individually-oriented offensive scheme might work better. The Wolverins don’t have the manpower to match up one-on-one all game with Detroit’s offensive options.

The Michigan defense is also a work in progress schematically. The Wolverines’ coaches have been open about their slide packages being slow to install with an inexperienced unit. Because of that (and Detroit’s offensive style through two games), we might see Michigan’s defense go with an early slide package to deny Shayne Adams, et al, an easy path to the goal.

The matchup then, becomes as much between the coordinators as between the players on the field. UDM’s Bill Tully will have to identify Michigan’s sliding packages, and put in plays to get his best scorers open when the slide comes. Michigan’s Ken Broschart is tasked with mixing things up – and maybe even using some zone against a team that hasn’t passed crisply early in the year – to keep the Titans on their toes.

If Michigan’s goalie situation – what with several hand injuries on the depth chart – was better than it is, they would better be able to take advantage of the matchups that they can get by preventing UDM’s best players to kill them. As it stands, whoever starts in goal may have to stand on his head with early slides leaving some offensive openings.

Michigan Offense v. Detroit Defense

The situation almost seems to be the opposite on the other end of the field: the Titan defense is a formidable one, while Michigan’s offense is still coming into its own. THe styles of play, however, should be quite different.

Detroit, as is well known, is a man-to-man, takeaway-oriented defense. That hasn’t shown as much on the boxscore this season, except in penalties. With an extremely small sample size, the Titans are the most-penalized team in the country by a mile, and it hasn’t paid off in many turnovers. Against Michigan, if they can play a clean game, they should be able to take advantage of limited talent for the Wolverines.

Michigan is going to scheme to get Trevor Yealy the ball on the crease as much as possible. Anybody who has seen the team play – and seen Yealy’s skills – in the past four years knows that. Gameplanning to get him open, or make Detroit pay for keeping him covered, is Judd Lattimore’s main task.

The Wolverines have other talented players, of course, though none with the DIvision-1 experience (or Canadian flair) of Detroit’s top offensive options.

Special Teams

 

The faceoff X is one spot on the field that Michigan seems to have a clear advantage. Both Delaware and Ohio State left the field (figuratively) smeared with the blood of the UDM FOGOs, and turned around with much less impressive performances against Bucknell (Delaware) and Mercer (!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ohio State). Brian Greiner is not proven at the Division-1 level, but in a one-on-one battle, I’ll side with the guy who doesn’t have a body of evidence over the guys who have a demonstrably bad history.

In the ride/clear game, Detroit – which was very good on the ride last year, finishing N0. 16 in the country – should put pressure on Michigan’s inexperienced team. Their stick skills won’t be up to snuff right away, and Providence showed that heavy pressure can cause Michigan to turn the ball over plenty.

Coming the other way, Detroit has been mediocre-to-poor through the first two games – albeit against some pretty good defenses – which is a continuation from last year, when the Titans were the second-worst team in the country at getting the ball out of their own end. Michigan will try some aggressive riding tactics of their own, and the chess match should be an interesting one.

That brings us to penalties. As mentioned above, Detroit has been horrifically penalty-prone early in 2012. They have to turn that around if they want this season to live up to expectations. Playing Michigan and their lesser stick skills than Delaware or Ohio State should mean a cleaner game with more turnovers forced. On the other side, Michigan might find themselves in the box in attempt to protect their keeper on at least a few occasions.

The man-up for Michigan is schematically sound, with several wrinkles available at Judd Lattimore’s disposal. Being short also takes Detroit out of their element, which is playing aggressive man defense. Advantage, Michigan.

When the Wolverines are a man down, I don’t think it’s as harmful to their gameplan as the opposite is for Detroit. Michigan’s defense isn’t going to light the world on fire man-to-man, and playing a packed-in zone on the man-down isn’t going to be as a major dropoff ans it will be for Detroit.

Big Picture

I’ve covered the meaning of the game itself earlier this morning. As for individual team stakes:

Detroit can break their disappointing streak to start the season, and get on the right foot going into a stretch of the schedule (after next weekend’s North Carolina contest) that includes eminently winnable games against Mercer, Georgetown, and even Quinnipiac to close out the pre-conference schedule. If their season is going to stand a chance to live up to expectations, this is a must-win game. Not because the result against Michigan has any effect on their conference record, but rather because Siena is going to be a much tougher out than an expansion team.

For Michigan, the varsity era can kick off with good feelings in addition to a good result. Not much – if anything – is expected from this Michigan team, and proving doubters wrong can propel them into a surprisingly competitive year, even if it’s one in which they only win a couple more games. The groundwork can be laid for the program, showing that even a brand new Michigan team can own the state over a Detroit squad expecting to win its conference.

Predictions

Detroit should – and I think will – win this game. They have more depth, more high-level talent, and more experience. How competitive the game is will speak more to Michigan than Detroit, I think (except in the case of a Titans loos, as outlined above).

That’s not to say it will be smooth sailing from start to finish for UDM. I think each team will have its moments of competence, and some head-scratchers, during the course of the game.

  • Michigan is going to hold their own on the faceoffs. It might not be a Dan Cooney or “insert Buckeye here”-esque domination, but Brian Greiner and Alex Marcus will finish with better than a .600 combined success rate.
  • Detroit’s offense will run much more smoothly than Michigan. The game’s more talented O v. less talented D should turn out like this, and I think it will. However, Michigan’s unit will show signs of growth for the future.
  • Michigan’s defense is going to be kind of bad. This should not come as a surprise (and in fact it would be more surprising for it not to transpire).
  • Detroit will still frustrate with its penalties, a few of them of the “stupid” and “overly emotional” variety. Fortunately, it won’t be enough to lose them the game, as an argument could be made that it was a huge factor in each part of the 0-2 start thus far.
  • Beams of light make it tough to see a white ball.

    The lighting is weird in the South end of Ultimate Soccer (as I learned during the MSU/Davenport game yesterday, pictured at right). This is going to cause something goofy to happen if it’s sunny out this afternoon.

It’s risky to predict this, but I think Michigan will surprise by not looking like a fish out of water. They are going to win, but they will look like they belong on the same field as UDM – something that many observers don’t believe going in. That said, The Titans will use this game as a springboard to a successful back half of the schedule, just like last year’s game at Ultimate Soccer against first-year Mercer did. ultimately,  the Titans come away with a 13-7 victory.

Elsewhere

Fair warning: a lot of these links are going to talk about what the game means as Michigan’s first in D-1, rather than anything about the game itself.

Detroit game preview materials and full game notes. FOX 2 feature on the game from last week. Michigan game preview materials and full game notes. Pregame quotes from Michigan coach John Paul.

Michigan’s official site covers the Wolverines’ lone spring scrimmage. Mark Dixon of ESPN talks about Michigan’s entry to Division-1. The New York Times‘ Quad blog talks Michigan’s promotion, and whether other schools will be able to follow the club-to-D1 path. UDM senior defenseman Jason McDonald blogs on Lacrosse Playground. AnnArbor.com briefly mentions Michigan’s debut.

GLS season previews of the various units on Detroit: (offense, defense, special teams) and Michigan (offense, defense, special teams).

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10 Responses to Preview: The Battle for Michigan

  1. Alex says:

    I didn’t watch, but I saw the final score (13-9). In general, I think that’s a lot better than what most were predicting, so I’m not too disappointed. I think this year might be one where the W-L record kind of belies the talent and ability of the team, especially going forward.

  2. Anon says:

    John Paul’s team is too systematic for division 1, but his players do what he asks of him.

  3. Jeff Daniels says:

    Overall the teams looked fairly even, with the final score representing an accurate measurement. UOD’s big edge was experience at this level and is showed down the stretch. They were much better on the fast break. UOD’s attack had a much bigger impact in the second half; UOM’s attack almost disappeared. While Meter and McCarmack looked OK in the first half, they were non-factors in the second. Paras doesn’t look comfortable playing midfield; Chu only marginally better. Neither team has any exceptional middies, although Bryant is a keeper. UOD’s defense was strong in the second half, limiting UOM’s ability to get off shots. UOM was slow on help defense and very much a work in progress. Their goaltending was OK but inconsistent – no glaring errors but no standout plays. Faceoffs were pretty even. UOM’s deliberate offense needs to freed up some to take advantage of opportunities. Their man-up was not effective at all. My guess that is that in 2015, as Michigan enters their fourth season, this will be a mismatch for the Blue – their recruiting advantage is just too great.

  4. AndyD says:

    Just got home from the game. I agree with most of Jeff’s assessment. I thought this was a pretty good showing for UM, but in the end UDM had too much firepower (and a better goalie). I’m sure both teams feel like they didn’t play very well.

    A few UDM thoughts:
    Faceoff play was much improved, although hard to measure as Michigan may not be very good there at this level.
    They seem to play with a lot of effort, but this is the third game in a row they have been out-ground balled, and this time it was by an inferior team. That will need to get fixed.
    UDM was a three man show in the first two games (Matthews, Adams, Harris). Good for them that Maini showed up today. They will need scoring from more than just a couple of guys.
    Lavelle seemed hot and cold. He made some great saves, but he also let in a couple of soft ones. That said, if he hadn’t made a few of the big saves this might have gone down to the wire.
    The defense got better as the game went on.
    Ride was non-existent. Not sure why they didn’t test Michigan’s skills a little more by riding them harder.
    Detroit cut way down on penalties (although see below on UM’s EMO).

    Michigan notes:
    UM has problems facing off and in goal. I understand that their staring goalie is injured, but they obviously have no depth there. Faceoffs may just be the jump to D1. They have the #1 ranked faceoff guy in the 2012 class (by espn rise at least) coming next year, and I’m sure they’ll upgrade their athletes on the wings with the first D1 class.
    They played a very conservative style, which is expected given the talent they have to work with right now. It kept them in the game, minus the run late in the third and early fourth.
    Defense did a really nice job on Matthews. He got his points, but he had to work to get good shots, and one of his two goals came on an outside shot a better goalie probably saves. A couple of his assists were to Adams, and I thought the same about a couple of his goals. A better goalie makes those saves.
    EMO was not good. They scored on a nice fake flip play that was waved off because of a toe in the crease. Same play worked again in the final second, but Yealy’s rushed shot missed. Otherwise they forced a couple of passes inside that weren’t open and spent the rest of the time slowly passing it around and jogging around the outside.

    I still haven’t seen much to be really enthused about from UDM. For a team that was the pick to win the MAAC, this hasn’t been an impressive start. Fortunately they have some time to work out the kinks before the MAAC schedule starts, and really that’s what matters most for them.

    Michigan will struggle to win any games this year, but I liked the fight I saw from them. The question is, can they maintain that through what will be a really tough season. I think Jeff is right – they will pass UDM within a few years and won’t look back. Their advantages in recruiting and resources are huge.

    • Tim says:

      Michigan’s top two (maybe even three?) goalies were out. That’s going to test any team’s depth at the position.

      But yes, regardless of the reasons, the goalie play they had today wasn’t very good.

  5. AndyD says:

    Looking forward to Reg’s assessment…

    • Reg Hartner says:

      I don’t have a ton to say until I watch the film. I helped out during the game so I couldn’t really pay full attention to it. I’ll get the film by Wed (I hope) and break it down fully.

      I’ll say this though, UDM played like crap. They have issues and if they don’t get their crap together UNC is going to make the Delaware game look merciful. If the 1st half against Delaware was a 9 (1 to 10 style) and the 2nd half was a 2, I’d put this game at about a 5. A wins a win, but talking to players after the game they were not happy with the way they played.

      2 quick notes. The 2 plays of the game. 1) Will Meter feeding Trevor Yealy on the crease for the quick stick. He through it high like an ally oop. Really nice play. 2) Was Jamie Hebden throwing the over the head take away check. Just freaking nasty.

      I ran into Tim before the game and told him my prediction was 16-5. I was way off.

  6. Anon says:

    Im starting to be afraid this Detroit team may just be talent with out bite. A la Philly eagles. Their fogos had 3 penalties, that’s embarrassing.

    • AndyD says:

      One of those penalties was complete BS though. The Michigan player ran into Davenport, and he got called for the penalty. I thought Detroit did a great job cutting down on the dumb penalties that hurt them in the first two games. If they can stay to five or less penalties like they did yesterday, that will be a positive for them. Yesterday their problems lay elsewhere.

      Reg,
      Like I said, I don’t think we’ve seen UDM play well in any game yet. I think both of these teams will get better. Detroit HAS to get better. They have a lot on the line this year with expectations high to win the MAAC. Michigan doesn’t have any expectations, so not as much pressure, but I expect they will be much improved by the end of the season. Just playing in their first D1 game this weekend will teach them a lot. Also, as Tim said, getting their goalie back will help also. If they don’t get good play at that position, this season is going to go from bad to brutal.

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