Michigan’s 2012 season was really, really bad. U-M managed a single win – over a hapless Mercer squad – and lost uncompetitively in just about every other one. Close games against some of the weaker squads on the schedule prettied things up for a team that really had no business playing at the Division-1 level (though they fought valiantly with a club roster against really tough odds).
U-M was expected to take a leap in Year Two, and on the face of things, it didn’t really happen. Once again, they managed a single win, this time over St. Josephs, but lost to a first-year squad in High Point. In reality, this was the traditional first year for a program at the D-1 level that accepted very few transfers and was playing with a mostly club roster (after making an immediate promotion to the varsity level in eight months, rather than the nearly two-year run-up of other nascent programs).
However, things just felt different. Sure, Michigan wasn’t competitive against Hopkins, or Ohio State, or even Army, but they were against some pretty good squads like Fairfield and Colgate. Unlike the previous year, it looked like they were just a few D-1 recruits short of the critical mass to become competitive.
Let’s take a quick look at the Wolverines’ statistical profile:
|Michigan Wolverines 2013|
|Faceoff Wins||124||Faceoff Wins||179|
|Offensive Efficiency||.207||Offensive Efficiency||.335|
So… that’s not good. It gets a little prettier when you adjust for strength of schedule (see the Wolverines’ full tempo-free profile here), given that U-M played a very tough slate. Their ranked No. 19 nationally according to TFL, whereas other new programs played the easiest schedules in the country (primarily consisting of each other).
What Went Well
This section is going to be a little bit longer than it was last year, thankfully. Oddly, it’s going to contain a totally different group of in-game aspects, for the most part. Michigan still ran the occasional 10-man ride, but whereas it was a team identity (to good effect) in 2012, it was more of an occasionally-used tool in the toolkit during the 2013 season.
The most notable positive was the play of goalie Gerald Logan. The dude had mediocre-at-best defense in front of him, and put up some of the best numbers in the country. Next year’s D will be younger, but likely more talented. His numbers could go in either direction, but it’s clear that he has what it takes to play the position at the highest level.
Spinning off from Logan, the general play of younger guys was definitely a bright sign for the future. The goalie was joined in the starting lineup by fellow freshmen Kyle Jackson (13 times), Mike Hernandez (12 times), Charlie Keady (nine times), and David Joseph (eight times), and they played key roles for the squad. Jackson and Hernandez were the team’s top two scorers, in fact. Other freshmen played key roles like FOGO Brad Lott (who was never listed as a starter due to position, but took the first draw in 11 games and led the team in attempts), midfielder Dan Kinek, and LSM Chase Brown. Whereas the 2012 team was veteran but not very good, this team was talented but just too young.
While Michigan’s season wasn’t pretty, as mentioned above, they just didn’t look as bad as they had the previous year. The margins of defeat were a little closer, the play was a little prettier, and there were times when you could just tell they were only a player or two away from breaking through. With another class of D-1 recruits on the way and another year of experience for those already on the roster, that day is coming.
Room for Improvement
Oh hey, this section is going to be really long. I did not change that sentence at all from last year.
One of the biggest issues for Michigan in 2013 – and this is something that can be a blessing and a curse – was the injury bug. Only nine players appeared in every single game for Michigan (though not all missed games were due to injury, enough were to be a problem). The missed games include the leading returning scorer from the previous year in Thomas Paras – who missed only one game but hardly played in several of them – and well more than a dozen amongst would-be starters in the defensive unit.
Even when injuries didn’t always directly lead to missed time, they prevented guys from adequately preparing. Most notably, Brad Lott missed the entire fall with injury, and was banged up during the season as well, which prevented him from not only getting the D-1 faceoff experience, but also building chemistry with his wing players. He won .471 of his faceoffs, but with better communication and comfort that can go up quickly.
What else went poorly? Offense and defense, for starters. As mentioned above, the units were more talented but younger (except at close D, which likely experiences that transition this offseason), but they didn’t do a whole lot right. The adjusted defensive efficiency actually took a pretty precipitous drop, and the defense improved just a smidgeon from the awful 2012 numbers. There is some upward mobility going forward. The defense’s main improvement is probably due to goalie play. Overall – despite an upperclassman-heavy close D – it likely wasn’t that much better.
It’s on offense that things are truly interesting. Whereas the 2012 team was one of the sharpest-shooting in the country (U-M’s otherwise-terrible team hit .310 of their shots, tenth nationally) but couldn’t hold onto the ball to save their lives (turning it over on more than 55% of possessions), the 2013 unit shot much more poorly – second-worst in the nation – but held on to the ball… well, a little bit better, at least. There are so many factors that can play into that, which I will explore at length at a later date. Is it simply an offensive style change with the new coordinator? Better midfielders with more confidence (perhaps too much confidence) in shooting from outside? Did 2012’s team get off many fewer shots, but better ones because the ones that they did get were the result of finally cramming it to the crease successfully? Was Trevor Yealy really that good? It’s undoubtedly a combination of several of those factors, and something worth taking a closer look at later.
The Distant Future
In case I haven’t teased some of the thoughts kicking around in my head enough yet, I’ll definitely be taking a closer look at some of them down the road. Individual items like faceoffs, goalie play, and even offensive style can get dedicated posts down the road.
What’s the big picture for Michigan, though? It’s clear that the improvement from Team One to Team Two was a little smaller than expected. While the team looked closer to fielding a fully competitive unit, the numbers say that your eyes may have been lying to you (or that there’s a difference between looking good and being good).
That look does give the impression that U-M is just a few players away from cracking things open a bit. Whether it’s another talented pole or two, a true distributor and a finisher or two on attack, and some bigger, faster athletes in the midfield to complement the pieces that are already in place, things will get better.
2013 demonstrated that it may just be a bit farther off than initially anticipated.