On the heels of two straight encouraging performances, Michigan came out with a clunker Saturday afternoon. More than anything, the Wolverines showed that, no matter how far the program has come, there’s still a lot of growing up to do.
From the official box score, a look at the tempo-free stats:
|St. Joseph’s 2014|
|Faceoff Wins||15||Faceoff Wins||9|
|Offensive Efficiency||.395||Offensive Efficiency||.182|
Michigan can have really good possession games (and they will), but every once in a while, things just aren’t working. That was the case Saturday. The faceoffs started hot for U-M, but cooled off quickly, and by that time the momentum was all with the Hawks.
What St. Joseph’s did the best was take body blows from Michigan (a bit easier when those body blows don’t include much scoring), and manage to soldier through that, then turn on their own production. Once they went on a big run, the Wolverines couldn’t get back into the contest, and you have a lopsided result.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of the stats, I think it’s worth expounding a bit more on the flow of the game. Michigan won the first five faceoffs, and earned one successful ride in the first quarter, but the Wolverines – despite seven shots in the first quarter – couldn’t put enough of them on net, and when St. Joseph’s turned their chances into goals, Michigan’s momentum started to crack. Even when the Hawks went on a big second-quarter run, it seemed like the Maize and Blue would stick within striking distance. A failed opportunity to bring the score to 7-3 with about two minutes left in the half turned into a St. Joseph’s goal and an 8-2 lead, and the Hawks had done enough to discourage a serious U-M comeback.
Now, on to faceoffs. Michigan won the first five of the game, including four violations. It’s clear the Brad Lott Intimidation Factor was with Michigan early. However, Michigan couldn’t get anything going despite those wins, and Lott started to fade a bit in the second quarter (including four violations of his own), and the Hawks were able to get into his head a bit. Ultimately, Lott finished .500 – not a bad performance, but certainly not up to his potential – and John Paul mixed up the personnel, including a bit of time for Chase Brown and Kevin Wylie. The confidence simply wasn’t there throughout.
Once St. Joseph’s got their momentum, the youth of Michigan’s team started to show. Unforced turnovers reared their ugly head (Michigan committed eight, in addition to the 10 that the Hawks forced), and things simply snowballed. For the Wolverines, its was mostly a performance to just forget about.
Robbie Zonino did not have his strongest contest, with a couple goals that he probably should have had a pretty good shot at saving. He did finish with 13 saves while allowing 15 goals, but take away a couple softies (including at least one during the Hawks’ big run), and this could be a different game. Zonino also committed some turnovers on the clear – three of them – and it was an all-around performance that he’ll see a lot to improve with.
Michigan definitely misses Mack Gembis (along, of course, with Charlie Keady and Gerald Logan, out for the year), and the sooner he returns, the better. The Wolverines worked through a couple poles for the third spot on close D (and gave sophomore Brendan Riefberg his first extensive action at LSM), and there’s a definite downgrade from Gembis when it comes to on-ball defense and executing the slide packages. The other guys do some things well – J.D. Johnson was the team’s leader with four ground balls – but there aren’t enough bullets in the chamber, especially when Michigan spends seemingly the entire second and fourth quarters on defense.
Offensively, Michigan was having a lot of trouble working to get shots that they wanted, a major credit to the St. Joseph’s defense. The Wolverines launched only 32 total shots, and put only 19 of those on cage. The hesitancy to shoot early in the game led to some empty possessions, and until a big fourth quarter (13 shots, six on goal), the offense was totally stifled.
It’s easy to forget that Michigan’s best offensive midfielders are still young, but they showed it in this game. Kyle Jackson committed four turnovers in a bigger ball-carrying role than he’s used to, and even when there wasn’t a turnover, his fellow sophomore Mike Hernandez (and freshman Mikie Schlosser) looked like they were out of control at times. St. Joseph’s pressured pretty heavily to intimidate those middies – not unlike what Maryland did. The Wolverines didn’t handle it as well as they had against the Terps.
Freshman attack Ian King was the lone multi-point scorer for U-M, with two goals. He found twine on both of his shots on cage, a very efficient performance (assuming those off-cage most likely ended up as backed-up shots for Michigan, which I guess isn’t necessarily a safe assumption, since the Hawks stole a few backups).
I mentioned Riefberg’s extensive playing time above, but it did seem like Michigan played “a lot of weird guys” (to quote Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo), even before playing some backups in the fourth after effectively conceding a loss. Brendan Gaughan, Christian Wolter, and Andrew Roswell were among the youngsters who found time.
It’s partially on account of the faceoff woes (eleven combined violations between the teams), but this was one of the most penalty-heavy outings I’ve seen in a long time. 13:30 of penalty time resulted in just two EMO goals on 13 combined opportunities (one apiece), plus a man-down goal for Kyle Jackson. In a lot of ways, just a performance to forget for both squads. St. Joseph’s will be happier to get the win, but they didn’t play their best game, either.
Short-turnaround games have been bad for Michigan, whether they falter in the midweek game (against High Point) or one of the weekend games (Saturday). It’s for the best that U-M gets an entire week to prepare for Air Force, where they’ll travel this Saturday.
Air Force is a weird one, because they have some decent wins and a nice record, but also what is easily the worst loss suffered by any team this season, an 8-6 defeat at the hands of VMI. The Falcons can clearly lose to anybody (assuming Furman and Mount St. Mary’s are beating exactly nobody this year, they don’t count), but are relatively competitive overall.