"He's a hard worker, and he watched me and Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and Nik (Stauksas) put work in to become (first-round picks), and I'm just happy he's getting better," Burke said. "It's great for the program, too. It shows what type of program the University of Michigan is and the direction it continues to go in."
left: no. right: no.
It was the kind of game that leaves you writing a rage list a la Artur Boruc. Here's the Iowa version of this:
THINGS THAT DON’T WORK, FRAN MCCAFFERY
- Having your entire defense collapse on a player charging into the low post area. THIS LEAVES AROUND 3-4 GUYS WIDE OPEN TO SHOOT A 3-POINTER. WHEN EVERY TEAM HAS AN “UNUSUAL” AMOUNT OF SUCCESS BEHIND THE LINE IT ISN’T BECAUSE THEY’RE “JUST HAVING AN ON NIGHT.”
- Having your power forward take countless jumpshots. UNLESS YOUR POWER FORWARD IS TIM DUNCAN, HE SHOULDN’T BE SHOOTING 15 FOOTERS.
Etc., etc. I felt a lot like the above during the game last night as Michigan ran a zillion ball screens on which Virginia showed harrrrrrd, resulting in Stu Douglass dribbling the ball 30 feet from the basket with ten seconds on the shot clock. Apparently our offense only works when the opponent is drunk on coconut milk. /shakes fist
/continues shaking fist
/gets tired, shakes other fist
/realizes he is doing dance moves now
Tony Bennett is a war crime. That was hard to watch. Anything involving a Bennett coaching basketball is. I guess it works. I get that Memphis and UCLA are stupid teams with terrible defenses ripe for Michigan to pick apart and that Virginia is not, but what I don't get is how Michigan tore Duke apart in the second half of that game in Maui.
Guess: Duke doesn't really have a PG and put either Curry or Rivers on Burke, which led to a ton of quality penetration and nine Burke assists. In this game Burke had a tough time with Virginia's similarly lightning-quick PG and the offense was reduced to chucking it around the perimeter a la Amaker.
And we're in pine for next year mode. My inner monologue never gets more AAAARGGGGGH than when Beilein fields a lineup mid-majors would laugh at, like late in the first half when Christian, McLimans, Douglass, and Akunne were out there. Like… together. I know. Novak was the other guy on the floor.
It's times like that when the talent on the team still seems desperately deficient. Next year that lineup reads McGary-Robinson-Stauskas-something-something, which seems more likely to score on large athletic people. Or anyone.
Tim Hardaway Jr. fouled out five minutes into the second half. That is the effect of sitting a guy with two fouls for the final 15 minutes of the first half. All coaches do this, so this is not a Beilein-specific complaint, but good lord. Hardaway averaged 2.5 fouls per 40 last year and Virginia had a couple of shooters on the floor… is Joe Harris really going to draw a ton of fouls on Hardaway?
By sitting your best player the entire first half you're enacting the worst case scenario of leaving him in. Hardaway picked up one foul in the 20 minutes he was allowed to play.
Novak. Nails. Can't guard actual scoring power forwards.
Morgan and Horford. Keep repeating "bigs take time to develop" to yourself. They were in a tough spot against guys taller, older, and more athletic than them. Anyone with that kind of front line is going to shut off Michigan's frontcourt scoring, not that there really is any frontcourt scoring that isn't set up by the guards.
The 1-3-1. Equals six offensive rebounds. The best play against it when you've got seven-footers is to avoid the risk of a turnover by throwing up a brick and crashing the boards. I have no proof of this but it seemed a lot less effective than straight man to man. (We hope to get some proof of this in the future.)
My wildly bipolar relationship with Evan Smotrycz. I was at an Interpol concert a few years back when I ran across this couple. He: a slightly nebbishy lawyer sort in a button down and flat-front pants. She: dyed red hair on the edge of punky, little zebra-striped dress, pouty, vacillating wildly between emotional states. The terms of the relationship were instantly clear. She did whatever the hell she wanted and he put up with it because, goddamn, that dress. I present a metaphor for my feelings about sophomore Evan Smotrycz that seems a lot creepier than I thought it was going to be when I started it.
I loathed Smotrycz for much of Maui and expected to hop on the internet to find that others were ranting about his lack of development only to find the opposite ; in this game he was 4/4, 2/2 from three, and… fouled out in 22 minutes. One, a bailout of their 88% FT-shooting power forward with four seconds left on the shot clock, saw expletives arc gracefully across my living room. All basketball players look incredulous when called for a foul but Smotrycz takes it to another level, especially when he's just done something 1) obvious even to me and 2) really, really dumb.
He is putting on the floor a lot more these days to good effect and he's still the floor-spreading four Beilein wants. It's just that sometimes I want to strangle him. That's all I'm saying.
8 assists. Glarg glarg glarg glarg. When is the last time Michigan had more turnovers (11) than assists under Beilein? Half of those came from Burke, BTW. The rest of the team generated basically nothing.
Open threes. They has them. We don't. Very frustrating. Burke had his moments but isn't at the point Morris was last year. Morris created an absolute ton of shots. Not only was he third in assist rate last year but he launched a quarter of Michigan's shots when he was on the floor.
Burke was never going to fill that void himself, so who else steps up? It looks like the answer is "nobody." Maybe Hardaway, but Hardaway has kept up his freshman tendency of disappearing for long stretches. He doesn't have the handle to create shots in an isolation situation so he has to get things from the framework of the offense. Maybe that means good defenses can shut him down? (See also: his coach leaving him on the bench for 15 minutes in the first half.)
Site note! OH MY GOD UFR UFR UFR OSU OSU OSU. Yeah, happening. I am going to take it a bit slower because, like, I can. Half this week, half next week.
The season's end usually means a slowdown in December since football is over, basketball is often wading through thickets of uninspiring nonconference opponents, and hockey is off for big chunks (this year they're also super depressing!). Also, the batteries. They need recharging.
Bid. The big prize in the School of Kinesiology's auction goes off the board in just over a day:
That is signed by:
Anthony Carter (Signed on the #1), Charles Woodson, Jake Long, Chad Henne, Elvis Grbac, Zoltan Mesko, Anthony "A-Train" Thomas, Larry Foote, Brandon Graham, Jamie Morris, Rick Leach, Jarrett Irons, Jim Brandstatter, Adrian Arrington, Reggie McKenzie, James Hall, Bob Chappuis, Vada Murray, Morgan Trent, Tim Jamison, Will Johnson, Butch Woolfolk, John Wangler, Bennie Joppru,Stevie Brown, Chris Floyd, Glen Steele, Mark Campbell, Clint Copenhaver, Aaron Shea, Scott Dresibach, Jarrod Bunch, Victor Hobson, Mark Messner, Stan Edwards, Derek Walker, Greg McMurtry, Billy Taylor, Harlan Huckleby, Don Dufek Sr., Don Dufek Jr., Bill Dufek, Ron Simpkins, Phil Brabbs, Chuck Winters, Andre Weathers, Jim Betts, Carl Diggs, Eric Mayes, Rondell Biggs, Greg Mathews, Doug Skene, David Moosman, Ron Bellamy and Adam Kraus.
Zoltan, yo. You will have to be a big baller to pick it up, but most of the emails I get come from law firms, so… yeah.
Hayden Fry on Bo. This is pretty much awesome:
Michigan's long-running semi-rivalry with Iowa has always seemed to me like the most mutually respectful one M has, what with Bump and Fry and Carr pulling for Ferentz and whatnot. It's good to have them in the division.
Sacrifice Virginia. Basketball hits the court again tonight (7PM, ESPN2) in their second consecutive road game in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. They've got Virginia. If you're thinking that sounds like a pushover, no, not so much. Kenpom has the 5-1 Cavaliers 37th and gives them a decent edge (61%) on their home court. Michigan probably has a better chance than wobbly early-season numbers suggest since they're still heavily counting Michigan's pre-Maui struggles.
While Michigan's playing its first true road game of the season, Virginia hasn't played a major conference team yet. They've annihilated a couple of bad teams, lost a squeaker to TCU, and cruised by Drexel, Drake, and Wisconsin-Green Bay. Defense is their calling card—they're currently 8th.
The Freshman Point Guard is Just Fine
Trey Burke hasn’t been perfect. He’s turned the ball over on 21% of his possessions, is shooting 60% on free throws, made one of eight threes in Maui and has the tendency to commit silly fouls. Despite those freshman mistakes, Burke has proven that he’s ready to play at this level. His quickness, playmaking ability and competitiveness have already proven vastly important through Michigan’s first six games.
Burke handed out more assists during the Maui Invitational than any player from any of the eight participating schools. He averaged 35 minutes per game in Maui, tied for the U-M lead, which serves as a ringing endorsement of John Beilein’s trust. The turnovers will decrease and he will find his three point shooting stroke (1-8 3pt in Maui) because he’s just too talented of a shooter not to. Burke is also the sort of player that can get a basket out of nothing – give him the ball in an isolation when the offense is struggling and he’ll make something happen.
“He’s got good size for his position, he’s athletic, he can shoot the basketball, and he can put the ball on the floor, get to the basket,” Ford said. “He’s got a lot of the tools that you sort of look for in a wing. If he was a better ball-handler — and it’s ironic, because his dad was amazing — that’s probably his biggest weakness. I think he (also) needs to get a little more consistent from 3-point range. “But I think he’s a pro.”
“He won’t need the money, and a lot of times that’s a big issue for players,” Ford said. “He’s got his dad, (so) he’s going to have access to more NBA guys giving him their opinions, which means he probably won’t get bad info. I probably say he stays, but I’m always surprised.”
Ford's plugging him in the same range Darius Morris was projected in as last season developed. As he mentions, money's not an issue, and this time around the NBA lockout helps. Last year the lockout pushed a marginal first-rounder like Morris into this years draft because a lot of blue-chips sat it out; this year those blue-chips will flood into the draft and push the Morris-Hardaway range back to school. I guess Burke fits in that range now, too. (Rivals basketball recruiting: you suck.) Sounds like Mitch McGary had a tough tournament over the last week, one that seems the draft consensus on him also in that fringe first-round range.
I'm still getting a handle on this edition of Michigan basketball, but it seems to me like Hardaway's increased ability to get his shot inside the arc is the non-Burke key. Memphis and Duke tried to shut off Michigan's threes only to get beat up on those overplays. Dylan notes Michigan's red-hot two-point shooting in Maui; Hardaway led the way at 27 of 44—a better than 60% clip.
Hardaway seems to have added a mid-range pull-up game that will be unstoppable since he's a 6'6" leaper. Just has to hit those shots. I expect the team's three-point shooting will come around to where it was last year. At this point Vogrich/Douglass/Novak is established as a floppy-haired Cerberus that will shoot between 36 and 38 percent collectively. Hardaway and Burke are the wildcards there. Is Hardaway the elite guy from the Big Ten season or also in that okay-to-good range? And how good of a shooter is Burke?
BONUS: Drexel's head coach is named "Bruiser Flint." Serious.
This is going to go well. They put Big Ten offensive lineman of the year David Molk in front of a camera and Tim Doyle asked him goofy questions.
Call me butterfly. I dare you.
Barely concealed contempt FTW.
Obligatory section on Meyer. He'll be some level of good. It's vastly more important for Michigan to have its house in order, which they seem to. Insert your preferred baseless assumption about Meyer's flakiness/health issues/lack of recruiting acumen here to make you feel better. At least we won't be one-upped in this department:
Rittenberg writes that if there's anyone who knows Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's system, it's Meyer. The two worked along side one another when Meyer was the head coach of Florida.
If Mattison stays at Michigan, perhaps Meyer could give the Buckeyes the advantage come next season, as OSU tries to avenge their first loss to UM in eight years.
PROTIP: if your assertion can be flipped 180 degrees and retain equal plausibility, find another assertion.
The one thing hiring Meyer does do is make OSU fans' assertions that they really gave themselves a tough punishment by firing/retiring Jim Tressel even more obviously crap than when they were originally peddled. The NCAA's reaction to a head coach lying to keep his most important players eligible, then lying again to get them eligible for a bowl game, is going to be pathetically weak even with the tattoos and cars and "charity" events on top of everything.
Countdown to resumption of normal activities in 3… 2… 1…
The neck, it sticks out. This year's most interesting recruit ranking kerfuffle is located in the general vicinity of Toledo, where Chris Wormley is the Ohio Division 1 defensive player of the year over Se'Von Pittman, Tom Strobel, Joe Bolden, and De'Van Bogard. Those four are all top 100 types. Wormley had M and OSU offers on top of that but still sees this massive rankings spread:
- 247: #59 overall, #3 SDE, #3 OH
- ESPN: 4*, #16 DE, #7 OH
- Scout: 4*, #161 overall, #22 DE
- Rivals: durf. 3*, #22 strongside defensive end (IE: approx #44 DE)
That's a powerful outlier there. Hopefully it's wrong.
Why the Big Ten is not so good, Part XXVII. The massive connections that come from a brief tenure at Cincinnati may land Pat Narduzzi the Illinois job:
As Illinois' search for Ron Zook's replacement begins, a source said the program is looking at candidates that include Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and Toledo head coach Tim Beckman.
Narduzzi's Big Ten affiliation and ties to Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas make him a likely target.
He served as the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati from 2004-06, overlapping with Thomas' tenure with the Bearcats that began in 2005. He was reportedly a candidate for the Cincinnati job that eventually went to Brian Kelly, who now coaches at Notre Dame.
Yes, this would be another disappointing mid-level Big Ten hire with names like Mike Leach, Kevin Sumlin, and anyone who's proven they are actually in charge of the thing they're supposed to be in charge of out there. Narduzzi is a defensive coordinator working under a former DC. That always makes me leery because you don't know how much of the team's success in their chosen field is because of the guy you're hiring.
Beckman would probably be a better hire: he's turned around Toledo, has a ton of recruiting connections in Ohio, and did establish himself as a BCS level coordinator at Oklahoma State. Schiano is not realistic. He has security at Rutgers and Illinois is a death trap.
If Illinois does go with Narduzzi that is both of Dantonio's coordinators out the door in a two year period. Not sure how much Narduzzi would hurt for the reasons given above, but it certainly can't help. It would be strange if Dantonio had more of a coaching tree in year five at MSU than Carr did, like, ever.
More Buckeye butthurt. Meinke collects the various lolrus OSU player twitter posts after the game. You've read the Boren ones; the others:
Added Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman: "Karma is gonna be a (expletive) for that little 'celebration' at the end."
Players said the controversial celebration -- you can catch a piece of it at the 34-minute mark of this YouTube video -- is something they have done after each Friday practice this year. Coach Brady Hoke said he was fine with his team celebrating their win that way.
"I don’t have any problem (with it) because it wasn’t disrespectful to anybody," Hoke said. "It’s something they do every Friday.
"No. It wasn’t disrespectful to anybody. It’s something those kids have done for 12 weeks.”
Ohio State, though, clearly was offended with the episode, which occurred in front of several players at midfield.
It led to Ohio State cornerback Brad Roby tweeting: "I will never lose to those scrubs again."
Etc.: Stuffing the Passer. Michigan-ND is Pat Forde's game of the year. Dreaded Judgment OSU game column. Dymonte Thomas badgers Bri'onte Dunn on the twitters. Dunn says he doesn't want to play in a spread. (Shhh.) Kyle Kalis is solid.
Since many will be working and it's the first real test of the season, we're livebloggin' the Memphis game. UMHoops preview here—the game tips off at 3 and will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. Liveblog Chaos Mitigation post here. Read that if you haven't, or potentially suffer the wrath of your MGoPeers.
This is very important. Fitz Tous is a much weirder name than Gerald Saint.
An image. This was on the internet, but not widely enough. Undoubtedly from this year's Big Ten Media Days, the family portrait:
I'm just posting this for Pelini.
WHAT ABOUT MY SOUL
Where have you been all my life. I can't believe this guy has been doing this for three years and no one has found him before MGoVideo stumbled across him this weekend:
A check of his account reveals he's done this exact same thing dozens of times over the past three years for things as insignificant as victories over Hillsdale. There is no corresponding "BOO" for losses, unfortunately.
NoPa. Whoever wins the league this year won't have to pick up their trophy with tongs:
Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno's name has been removed from the Big Ten's football championship trophy, league commissioner Jim Delany said Monday.
“We believe that it would be inappropriate to keep Joe Paterno’s name on the trophy at this time,” Delany said. “The trophy and its namesake are intended to be celebratory and aspirational, not controversial. We believe that it’s important to keep the focus on the players and the teams that will be competing in the inaugural championship game.”
They're going with just "Stagg." Now all we have to do is tie the division names into a horrible crime and we're set nomenclature-wise. Paterno is kind of a leader and legend all wrapped into one, isn't he?
Legal argh. Marvin Robinson's concussion turns out to be one that causes bad decisions:
Robinson, 20, was arraigned last week on a charge of second degree home invasion and released on a promise to appear. He is accused of breaking into a locked dorm room at 10 p.m. Sept. 29 and stealing the game.
After getting some time early in the year Robinson mysteriously disappeared; now we know why. There's a lot of speculation about this being the end of MRob by mysterious insiders; I find that odd. Unless he's had previous incidents this seems like a first strike type event. Previous Michigan players in the same level of trouble have been able to return after doing penance.
"(They) gave me some freedom to call some stunts up front that coaches wouldn’t typically do, but they trust that I’m smart enough to make the right calls," Van Bergen said. "We didn’t actually get the green light, we just started doing it. Take a risk. Why not?
"It worked the first two or three times, and the coaches were just like, ‘Call ‘em when you feel like calling ‘em.’"
Remember a couple years ago when Indiana ripped off an 85-yard touchdown because RVB missed a check? That doesn't so much happen anymore. Seniors. I like them. We should try to have more of them. You, Desmond Morgan: be a senior with four years of eligibility starting now.
A note on Denard fumbly bits. While it's frustrating to endure a game in which Denard fumbles turn two drives in field goal range to dust, the team's overall trend is still highly positive:
|Year: 2011||Thru: 11/12/11|
The noise you hear is Rich Rodriguez screaming "oh, of course this happens the year after I get fired." Denard coughed it up twice against Illinois and had the elaborate-sack-escape fumble against Iowa; the other two lost fumbles were from Smith and Hopkins against SDSU. Robinson's had 330 events this year; losing three fumbles on them isn't that bad.
Last year Michigan lost 14(!) as a team. The improvement here has been significant enough to more than combat the increase in interceptions.
Complicated bits. Smart Football's Grantland work seems specifically targeted at things we've been discussing about Michigan's offensive transition. There a post about how Jim Harbaugh has dumped sight reading from the 49ers offense and thereby aided them in their transformation from chumps to 7-1. At first they were like this:
And then they would change to this when they got a blitz:
But now they're like this:
They always have hot routes built into the play. Michigan has gone the other direction. Unfortunately you're thinking of Vincent Smith not running a slant against Michigan State right now, but I can't do anything about that. Chris Brown's take on this adaptation:
It's my personal view, but I think NFL teams rely too much on sight adjustments. There are two reasons for this: First, these plays were far more straightforward a decade or two ago than they are now, and second, coaches who spend nearly all their waking hours thinking about football tend to forget that it's not how many X's and O's they know but what they can teach their players. To the first point, sight adjustments are old — at least 50 years old, if not more. But they arose before zone blitzes became popular. Against a blitz with man-to-man coverage in the secondary, sight adjustments made perfect sense. They were extensions of backyard football — throw a quick one to the fast guy and let him run with the ball before the blitz overwhelms the offensive line.
Now it's not so simple. With the rise of the zone blitz, the fact that three defenders might rush from one side tells the offense almost nothing about where the coverage will be. This is why, when zone blitzes first became prominent, you saw quarterbacks throwing awful passes directly to defenders who weren't even close to receivers. This is not to say that sight adjustments are impossible in today's environment, but they require an almost telepathic relationship between quarterback, receiver, and even the offensive line.
Borges and Hoke have been grumbling about wide receivers being hidden issues in the passing game for chunks of the year and I think this is what they're talking about. In the spring game Gardner missed Gallon three times when Gallon pulled up short and Gardner threw long or vice versa; the Smith interception happened; Denard has often been under pressure without anywhere to go with the ball because everyone's 30 yards downfield. That seems nuts so my assumption is when that happens it's because the receivers have not read the play correctly.
While this should get better next year when Gallon, Roundtree, and Stonum all have a year of experience under their belts I'm a little leery of Michigan using sight reads extensively—and they seem like an all-or-nothing proposition like being a triple option or Air Raid team. You're either 100% committed to it or you suck. I'll figure out more about this over the offseason—I've signed up for some clinics featuring Michigan's coordinators that will hopefully shed some light on what Michigan's trying to do.
BONUS relevance: Brown also breaks down one of Oregon's long runs against Stanford with a focus on the alignment of the line and how Oregon forces you to respect the bubble. I'll probably tackle that in greater detail in a picture pages.
Yost attendance problem mitigation. If you have tickets, need tickets, need a rideshare, or require any other thing that will get you to Yost there is a Children of Yost facebook page that can help you with these matters. I don't think their services extend to calling you up at 7:15 and screaming "PUT DOWN THE MW3 AND LEAVE THE HOUSE NOW," unfortunately.
More Trouba. Via NHL.com:
"He has offense skills and he really does defend well," Gregory said. "You can just tell by how he plays in all areas of the ice that he's a big kid who skates really well. He loves to jump into the play and has confidence because he knows his skating can get him back, so he rarely gets caught out of position. He's going to be someone people are going to talk about; we've known about him for a couple years and he's not disappointing early on this year, either."…
"He skates exceptionally well and likes to rush up the ice with the puck and with good speed," he said. "He's very confident, has great agility, is strong physically and is always alert. He's done a good job in 1-on-1 situations against opposing forwards and contained his man very well."
(HT: Michigan Hockey Net.)
This week in going for it. Advanced NFL Stats has a go-or-not 4th down calculator, but I think it's broken. When I punch in the situation from the weekend, it says 100% of 92 is 93. As a result it says M should have kicked.
I think it means the decision to go was correct since it says you have a 70% chance of success and your WP goes from 92 to 93 if you get it right. Expected points are massively in favor of going, FWIW: 4.5 to 2.4.
The mid 90s summed up. Midnight Maize brings us this shirt, which should be the student T this year and for all time:
That is wicked off the hook but inexplicably managed to escape its ebay auction unsold.
Etc.: Toussaint interviewed by TIM DOYLE OMG. Says "I'm just a big fan of fashion." Toussaint, not Doyle. Dreaded Judgment gets on the "third down == awesome" bandwagon. MGoFootball Illinois bullets arrived too late for yesterday's game post.
Iowa fans think Michigan State got fainting disease last Saturday, which I point out mostly to marvel at the idea anyone would have to slow the Hawkeyes' tempo down. I guess they were down a billion.
L to R: Greatest photo evar(!), Trey Burke, Evan Smotrycz
Brian has decided to activate the "ninja" half of my job description and deploy me as MGoBlog's go-to basketball guy this season, a role which will only increase as football season comes to a close. Michigan's basketball season officially
kicks tips off tonight against D-II opponent Ferris State in a game that would be far more interesting if it took place at Yost instead of Crisler, but that's non-conference basketball scheduling for you. That means I should probably post a season preview.
Last year saw an extremely youthful Michigan squad overcome the losses of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims and a six-game midseason losing streak to make a shocking run to the NCAA tournament—highlighted by a season sweep of Michigan State—where they bombarded Tennessee in the first round before falling just short against top-seeded Duke. The Wolverines were poised to bring back every major (and minor, really) contributor from the 2010-11 squad until Darius Morris—the team's leading scorer and only true point guard—decided to leave for the NBA, turning Michigan from a potential Big Ten dark horse into, well, a darker horse, if that makes any sense whatsoever.
Still, the Wolverines return everybody except Morris, add a pair of high-profile freshmen in point guard Trey Burke and combo guard Carlton Brundidge (as well as forward Max Bielfeldt), and have an obvious go-to guy in place in sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr., who is poised to take over the reigns from Morris as the focal point of the offense. This is enough to earn them a preseason #22 rating from Ken Pomeroy, good for fourth in the B1G behind Ohio State (#2), Wisconsin (#10), and Purdue (#19), and just ahead of the Spartans (#24). How will the team fare? Let's start by breaking it down by somewhat-vague position groups:
Yes, point guard gets a section to itself, and this will be the most scrutinized spot on the floor for the Wolverines. As expected, John Beilein has named freshman Trey Burke, a four-star recruit and last year's Mr. Basketball in Ohio, as the starter, and he's under an extraordinary amount of pressure to come in and adequately replace Darius Morris. Their styles couldn't be much more different—Morris is a 6'4", physical creator who used his size to create interior shots (both for himself and others) but struggled with his outside shot, while the 5'11" Burke relies on his quickness and shooting ability to create his own offense. Burke actually fits better into Beilein's offense, but the looming question is whether or not Burke will be able to set up his teammates like Morris (6.7 assists per game last year) while not making too many freshman mistakes with the basketball.
It's likely that Stu Douglass will reprise his role as sixth man and primary backup at both guard positions. Douglass isn't an ideal creator at point guard—last year, he had a higher turnover rate (17.0%) than assist rate (10.9%)—but he's a streak shooter who can occasionally catch fire from deep and as a senior he's well-versed in the offense. Now that he's got a year of experience at point guard—a position he had never played until last season—under his belt, he should be an adequate backup for Burke. Douglass is the team's best perimeter defender, as well, but he must develop more consistency in his shot (48.9% from two, 35.8% from three LY) to become a real threat on offense.
Michigan's only other scholarship senior is the King of the Gritty White Guy Platitudes himself, Zack Novak, a 6'4" shooter/rebounder/unlikely-dunk-contest-winner/sideline-freakout-artist who has spent much of his Wolverine career playing wildly out of position at power forward. Now that Michigan finally has some depth up front, Novak can play the two or the three, and this should help open up his offense—other than seldom-used Matt Vogrich, Novak had the best three-point percentage on the team last year at 38.5%, but he often seemed to get gassed and disappear offensively due to having to guard players half-a-foot taller than him. Unfortunately, he's not a threat inside the arc, posting a paltry 38.0% shooting mark on two-pointers, but his remarkable ability to get rebounds amidst the trees makes him a valuable player on both ends of the floor. I expect Novak will average double-digits in scoring while grabbing 5-7 rebounds per game and providing valuable defense.
Your other starter on the wing is Tim Hardaway Jr., who greatly exceeded expectations as a freshman—averaging nearly 14 points and four rebounds per game—and will now become the team's go-to scorer. Hardaway spent much of last season as a spot-up shooter, and connected on a decent 36.7% of his threes, but this year he'll be asked to do much more creating with the ball in his hands. This was an area he improved upon as the season wore on last year, but he'll still have to get much better now that Morris isn't there to take away a lot of the defensive pressure. Still, Hardaway is the clear best player on the team—he's on both the Naismith and Wooden award preseason watch lists—and he should average at least 15 points a game. The big question here will be his shot selection, as he displayed a propensity for "what was that?"-type jumpers at times last year and could feel more pressure to jack up ill-advised shots as the team's main scorer.
Douglass, again, should be the primary backup at guard, but don't be surprised if 6'4" junior Matt Vogrich sees a greatly increased role this season. Vogrich was a dead-eye shooter from distance last season, hitting 38.7% of his threes, and was much-improved defensively after looking lost as a freshman two years ago. He's still limited in terms of his skill set, but in Beilein's system his sharp shooting will be a big asset off the bench.
The wild card here is four-star freshman Carlton Brundidge, who stands at only 6'1" but is a strong slasher who is at his best when attacking the basket, something you can't say about anyone else on the roster. Brundidge barely played in Michigan's exhibition game against Wayne State last week, but I think his role will increase as the season moves forward—he's one of the more talented players on the roster and could see a lot of time next to Douglass when the senior shifts over to the point, as their respective size and skill-sets make for a solid backcourt pairing.
(I'm throwing the nominal power forwards in here too, just in case there's some confusion when I call, say, the 6'6" Colton Christian a backup big.)
The starter at the four is 6'9" sophomore Evan Smotrycz, a very solid outside shooter (38.1% from three) who many have tabbed as the X-factor for this year's team. Smotrycz reportedly gained 30 much-needed pounds in the offseason, which should help his post defense greatly, but there are still major questions about his athleticism and ability to create shots on offense. Smotrycz doesn't have much in the way of a post game and hasn't displayed the quickness to face up and drive past a player with regularity, and we'll have to see if he's improved in those areas over the offseason. While I still don't think he'll be a major threat in the post, his size and shooting ability are very intriguing, and I think Smotrycz could emerge as the team's second option on offense. Defensively, he should be fine as long as he's not asked to take on quick small forwards or hulking centers, and Beilein now has enough flexibility with his lineups where that shouldn't be a huge issue.
At center, it's a battle between redshirt sophomore Jordan Morgan and true sophomore Jon Horford (brother of Al) for the starting spot. Morgan was the man there last year, and was extremely efficient shooting the basketball (62.7%), but most of his opportunities were either created by the now-departed Morris or the result of offensive rebounds. While he was decent in his on-ball defense, Morgan was extremely foul-prone and did not provide much of a shot-blocking threat. If tabbed as the eventual starter, Morgan should be solid, but he's got his limitations and could really feel the absence of Morris more than anyone else on the roster.
Though it came as a bit of a surprise, it was Horford who started against Wayne State, and he'll take the opening tip once again against Ferris State tonight. An extremely raw prospect out of high school, Horford showed occasional flashes of rebounding and shot-blocking brilliance last year, but often looked awkward with the ball in his hands and frequently settled for outside shots, which he rarely made. Like Morgan, he was very foul-prone, so we'll likely see both big men get major minutes this season, but Horford seems to have the higher upside—he's more athletic than Morgan and has a better shooting touch while providing a much-needed shot-blocking presence on the interior of the defense.
There are two bench players who should see occasional minutes this year: 6'6" sophomore power forward Colton Christian and 6'10" center Blake McLimans. Christian doesn't provide any real threat offensively, but he's a capable rebounder and defender who could turn into an interesting role player if he shows the ability—and willingness—to hit any sort of shot. McLimans is big, which is always nice, but he was supposed to possess a good outside shot and ended up going 1-for-19 for three last year. Since he only shot the ball 41 times total (making 13), this is a bit of an issue, and defensively he's not as strong as either Morgan or Horford. We'll see if Beilein trusts him enough to put him in the rotation, or if he decides to go small and occasionally move Smotrycz to the five, something we saw a fair amount last year.
I hate to kind of punt on this one, but man, who knows? The 2008-09 team was supposed to be mediocre at best, then made a surprise run to the tournament and even knocked off Clemson once they got there. The 2009-10 team brought back pretty much everyone, had a lot of preseason hype, and fell flat to the tune of a 15-17 record. With Harris and Sims gone last season and pretty much the entire team either freshman or sophomores, the 2010-11 squad looked to be terrible, so of course they reeled off 21 wins and once again advanced to the second round of the NCAAs.
This year's team appears poised for a potential top-25 season and another tournament run, but much of those expectations rely on a smooth transition from a star in Morris to a true freshman in Burke while other players—most notably Hardaway and Smotrycz—pick up the scoring slack and keep the offense running smoothly. With a difficult non-conference slate that includes a brutal draw in the Maui Invitational, plus playing in a Big Ten conference ranked by KenPom as the nation's toughest, this looks to me like a team that will spend much of the season squarely on the tournament bubble.
Exceeding those expectations means that we either see vast improvement from key role players, a huge breakout from Tim Hardaway, or a fantastic freshman year out of Burke—none of those are out of the question, but none are certainties, either. If Michigan suddenly finds that they can't create inside scoring chances without Morris's penetration, or Hardaway spends the season trying to carry the offense by chucking up less-than-ideal shots, Michigan could fall short of their goals as the fanbase begins to look ahead to the arrival of Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nick Stauskas in 2012-13.
All I can say for certain is this will be an interesting year, and lucky for us, this is a group that is extremely likable and fun to support. The future is very bright, almost regardless of what happens this year, but we'll just have to see if the Wolverines continue to make a push towards the top of the Big Ten or stay in a holding pattern until blue-chip reinforcements arrive.