Mike Lantry, 1972
Yes, there's an OSU preview coming.
|WHAT||#15/16 Michigan v. Houston Baptist|
November 20th, 2009
|THE LINE||No line, junkie|
Michigan will probably come out with the same lineup they played last game: Darius Morris at the point, Laval Lucas-Perry at guard, Manny Harris and Zack Novak at forward, and DeShawn Sims in the middle. Stu Douglass will replace LLP at the first substitution.
With the quality of team HBU appears to be (more on that in a moment), Michigan will probably be able to get lots of subs into the game. It may not mean multiple minutes for Eso Akunne and Josh Bartelstein, but Beilein has a big tournament coming up next weekend, and should try to build a bit of depth.
Matt Vogrich, Stu Douglass, and Zack Gibson will probably get a bunch of time. If Ben Cronin is healthy, he can be the biggest guy on the court by 3 inches. Anthony Wright will probably get some time for a 10-man rotation, but he hasn't played well so far.
For the Wolverines, this should be little more than a tuneup for the Old Spice Classic next weekend.
It's hard to know exactly how good teams are this early in the season, but early returns on Houston Baptist say they're pretty bad. The Huskies have only played South Alabama, Sacramento State, and Rice, and have lost all three games (two on their home court).
The majority of their problems have been on offense, where they're 300th in efficiency (again, don't read tooooo much into the rankings this early in the season). They turn the ball over on more than a quarter of their possessions, and they can't shoot the ball, especially from long range, where they've made fewer than 9% of their shots(!). They also have 13.1% of their attempts blocked.
Defensively, they've been good defending the three-point line, holding opponents to 19% shooting. They've also been above-average in holding opponents from making 2-point buckets.
So, with three games under their belts, Houston Baptist has looked like a very bad offensive team, and a decent defensive team. The Wolverines will be the most talented team they've seen yet by far.
This is definitely a team that won't give Michigan matchup trouble with size. The Huskies' most used players have been post Mario Flaherty (their tallest player at 6-9), 6-6 forward Andrew Gonzales, 5th-year senior guard Wendell Preadom, and guard Michael Moss. Those guys have played more than 3/4 of available minutes, and nobody else has played more than a third.
Ach: this one is late for no reason other than I forgot to post it yesterday. In keeping with our "you can't have one with the other" theme of late, Jamiemac of Just Cover appears but we forgo an Ohio State blogger on the premise that even if they tried really hard they couldn't be anything other than annoyingly condescending given the state of things.
Long, and mostly concerned with 2010 and basketball so timeliness is not a huge issue.
Links of use:
Michigan (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
When a college basketball player scores a triple-double, it's likely his team had a pretty good game. When he does it after 29 minutes of play, and is able to take to the bench for significant garbage time, it's guaranteed. Manny Harris did just that, recording only the second triple-double in Michigan basketball history last night in the Wolverines' 97-50 romp over D-2 Northern Michigan. He finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Just about the only thing that made Wolverine fans unhappy was Beilein's decision not to go for the century mark in the final minute.
For much of the game, it seemed like the offense wasn't running that smoothly, and the majority of Michigan's points were coming in fast break situations (or only shortly thereafter). There are a number of things that probably factor into this: freshmen getting used to the pace of an actual game in college, including one at point guard; overmatched opponent didn't require running too much of the offense; early season jitters. I think the jitters may have played a role, as the team started sketchy from the line, with Manny Harris missing one, and LLP and Anthony Wright each having a bad miss. They settled down from the stripe as the game went on, and the team missed just one freebie in the second half.
Freshman Matt Vogrich showed he can shoot the hell out of the ball, making all 5 of his shot attempts, each of them from behind the arc. Zack Novak, on the other hand, was unable to continue his hot streak from the last game, missing on both of his 3-balls. DeShawn Sims led all scorers with 22 points. Zack Gibson is still good for a couple really athletic plays per game and a couple awkward ones, including having a guard rip a rebound out of his hands. I still don't like Anthony Wright as a useful piece of this team. He misses 100% of the shots he doesn't take... and nearly all the ones that he does take. Sure, he can get hot at times (see: NCAA Tournament game against Oklahoma), but that's the exception, not the rule.
Other personnel notes: Laval Lucas-Perry didn't score a lot, but did a pretty good job running the point when he was asked to do so. A host of walkons got in at the end of the game (Akunne, Bartelstein, Puls, and Person), and they played with Ben Cronin. After the game, Beilein said that he would have liked Cronin to get a bit more time, but he has a hand injury (his right hand was heavily taped during the game) that limits him from shooting or catching the ball. That injury should be fine by Friday.
The defensive intensity looked really good to start the game, and the players were being really aggressive in the zone. I can see why it's so helpful to have a 6-4 guy at the top of the zone, rather than somebody who's generously listed at 6-0. There were instances where the team was able to trap Northern's players, but they didn't actually record too many turnovers. As the game wore on and it became apparent that the Wildcats wouldn't be posing a serious threat, the intensity cooled off a bit, and I think there might have even been more reliance on man defenses, though I haven't re-watched the game to confirm.
- "They told me I had three assists to get [the triple double] and that's when I knew and I kinda counted from there." Manny Harris, on whether he knew he was approaching the triple-double.
- "I think anybody could get 10 assists, because we shoot the ball so well." Manny Harris.
- "He'll probably miss one or two [in practice], but we know he can shoot." Manny Harris on Matt Vogrich's shooting performance. "Class of 2013 right there. I was real happy for him. He's a shooter and I think he proved that out there today. I think you guys will be seeing a lot more of that from him." Darius Morris on Vogrich's performance.
- "For Manny to go out there and make plays, that's what he does: he's a playmaker." Darius Morris on Manny Harris's triple-double.
- "He trusts these shooters, and he relishes the assists as much as he does the points." John Beilein on Manny Harris's performance.
- "I like Stu coming in at that 13-minutes mark, because he's got that arm warmed up and ready to roll." John Beilein on bringing Stu Douglass off the bench.
- "I think he'll be fine by next weekend but he can't shoot right now and catch right now because his right hand still bothers him." John Beilein on Ben Cronin's injury.
- "Our defense has to improve, and I thought this was a good start today. Tomorrow when we watch film, there will be 50 or 60 cuts, and we'll spend an hour in there telling them what we gotta do better." John Beilein on the team's defense.
Michigan takes on Houston Baptist (0-2) Friday at 7 in Crisler Arena, available online at BigTenNetwork.com. The Huskies have another game before they head to Ann Arbor, taking on Rice tonight. Full preview of the game as it approaches.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Northern Michigan|
November 13th, 2009
|THE LINE||No line, junkie|
|TELEVISION||Big Ten Network|
Year 3 of the John Beilein era gets off to its official start Saturday at 7 as Michigan takes on the Wildcats of Northern Michigan in Crisler Arena. Though he's been a coach for over three decades, Beilein still feels butterflies heading into the year. "My gut feels the same... You're excited about it, and at the same time there's nervous energy."
If everything goes according to plan, the Wildcats will provide little competition. Instead, it should be an opportunity to get the kinks worked out, and a rotation established, before Houston Baptist comes to town next Friday—and hopefully even that is just a tune-up for the Old Spice Classic. The game against Northern will count as a win in the record books, but doesn't have an effect on Michigan's final RPI.
Manny Harris is still not 100%, though he's finally practicing in full with the team. Jordan Morgan has yet to hit the court with his teammates, though it should come soon. He and Blake McLimans will be kept on a redshirt track until the team absolutely needs them, in hopes that it never does.
A number of players are looking to improve their versatility. "I'm here to do what Coach Beilein needs me to do," says Laval Lucas-Perry, "I think I'm a little bit of both: point guard and a shooting guard." Darius Morris needs to learn when to simply go to the bucket, instead of setting up an offensive play (he also needs a winter coat). "As a point guard, you have to know when it's your opportunity to go out there and be a scorer... when you have to make that extra pass or go straight to the basket," Morris said. Stu Douglass is learning that sometimes it's OK to just trust his shot, even when running the point.
The rebounding and three-point defense continue to be issues, as they probably will be throughout the John Beilein era, though not to the extent they were last year. "The zone, at times, will give up a higher percentage than we'd like to, but it also creates turnovers," says Beilein. The team size will improve over last year, hopefully fixing some of those issues.
This team is still very much a work in progress. But isn't it fun to be able to enjoy the process?
As discussed in yesterday's non-conference roundup, Northern is, like, not very good. Against D-2 competition, they were below .500. They split the season series with Wayne State, a team that gave Michigan a comfortable victory in their exhibition last week. This is the Wildcats' first game of the season, in the largest arena they'll visit all year. They placed nobody on the pre-season all-conference squads.
Their players to watch are guards Marc Renelique and Raymont McElroy. They were atop last year's squad in scoring, and McElroy is the three-point shooter. The Northern Michigan roster from their website has some differences from ESPN's website, so take any personnel notes with a grain of salt. Hopefully, it shouldn't be too relevant for this game.
No tempo-free breakdown for this game, as it's the first game of the year against a D-2 opponent. We'll see about Houston Baptist getting the statistical preview, but it should make its permanent debut for the Old Spice Classic.
UMHoops has a little more on the Wildcats and six questions going into the season, which makes Rothstein's five questions seem very sad and small and alone. AnnArbor.com has plenty of coverage; Morris and LLP are the point guards with Douglass a third option. Jay Bilas has gone from emotional problems to crazy Michigan homer. Also Dick Vitale said something I'm betting was annoying.
With basketball season fast approaching, let's take a look at Michigan's non-conference schedule, and see what the Wolverines are up against this winter. A more thorough rundown of Saturday's opponent may be coming later this week, but it's pretty difficult to find information on D-2 teams.
November 14: Northern Michigan
Home, Big Ten Network
2009 Record: 11-16, 6-16 GLIAC
2009 Final RPI: N/A (Division 2)
2009 Final Pomeroy: N/A (Division 2)
Key Players: Guards Marc Renelique and Raymont McElroy led the team in scoring last year, with 14.2 and 13.0 points/game, respectively. Both have good size, at 6-2. McElroy is the team's sharpshooter, making 42.2% of his threes last year. Fellow guard Chris Warner was third on the team with 10.4 points/game, and he specialized at getting to the free throw line, with 136 attempts. Unfortunately, he only shot 68.4% from the stripe. He also led the team in rebounds and foul-outs.
Key Losses: Wing Tyler Kazmierkoski was fourth on the team in scoring at 10.4 points/game. He's not listed on the Northern roster, but was only a sophomore last year. 6-6 forward Kyle Greene is also not listed on the roster, and he was second on the team in boards last year. Both players are still on the team, per ESPN, so I don't know what to think.
Notes: If the GLIAC sounds familiar, it's because Michigan's only opponent to date, Wayne State, also hails from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Last year, Wayne finished 10-12 in the GLIAC, though they played in the opposite division. The teams met up twice, with the road team emerging victorious in each contest.
November 20: Houston Baptist
2009 Record: 4-25, Independent
2009 Final RPI: 312
2009 Final Pomeroy: 324
Key Players: Mario Flaherty is a 6-9 white guy with an Italian and Irish name. He played about 50% of the team's minutes last year, which doesn't sound like much. Except it's by far the most of any returning player. He's a banger down low, as the tallest guy on the team last year, he led in blocks and was second in drawing fouls. The only other contributor from last year's team that returns is 6-7 forward Fred Hinnenkamp, who had the worst offensive rating of anyone on the team, at 55.3.
Key Losses: This should be a pretty robust category, considering Baptist played 10 seniors last year, in addition to one sophomore, Jeremy Havard, who is no longer with the team. Just look at what Flaherty and Hinninekamp did last year, and keep in mind that EVERYTHING ELSE has been lost from the team. That includes the top 4 in minutes played, and the team's two most important players, forward Gordon Watt and guard Brandon Sauls.
Notes: This team was bad last year. This team loses almost every single ounce of production, both offensively and defensively from last year's team. It shouldn't be pretty in Crisler Arena come next Friday.
November 26: Creighton
Orlando, FL (Old Spice Classic), ESPN2
2009 Record: 26-7, 15-5 Missouri Valley
2009 Final RPI: 40
2009 Final Pomeroy: 76
Key Players: Junior guard P'Allen Stinnett led the team in minutes played and steals last year, in addition to getting fouled and going to the line frequently. Senior forward Justin Carter was the team's top rebounder both offensively and defensively, despite standing just 6-4. Senior Cavel Witter was the team's second point guard last season.
Key Losses: Creighton actually fielded a fairly young team last year (making them dangerous this season), but they did lose two important contributors. Guards Booker Woodfox(!) and Josh Dotzler were second and fourth, respectively, in minutes played. Dotzler led the team in assists, and was second nationally in steal percentage. Woodfox has an awesome name, and was by far the team's best shooter.
November 27 & 29: TBA
Orlando, FL (Old Spice Classic), ESPN or ESPNU
Notes: Michigan's 2nd and 3rd-round opponents will be determined by the results of Round 1. Possibilities for Round 2 are Marquette and Xavier. A more thorough preview of the Old Spice Classic as it approaches.
December 2: Boston College
Home (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), ESPN2
2009 Record: 22-11, 10-8 ACC
2009 Final RPI: 60
2009 Final Pomeroy: 69
Key Players: The Eagles only played one senior last year, so they return lots and lots of depth, particularly in their 6-man junior class. Forwards Joe Trapani and Corey Raji and wing Rakim Sanders are the most important returners form last year's team. The 6-6 Raji led the 2008-09 Eagles in offensive rating, rebounding, and HOLDING ON TO THE DAMN BALL. Trapani, at 6-9, was the best blocker and defensive rebounder. Sanders took the most shots on the team, on with good reason - he was the best shooter for BC. However, like junior center Josh Southern, he was known to get in a bit of foul trouble.
Key Losses: Tyrese Rice was the only Eagle who graduated this offseason. He played the most minutes on the team by a healthy margin, and racked up a good number of assists. He was also the only BC player who could consistently get to the free throw line.
Notes: Rice is a big loss, but Boston College should be able to absorb the departure of just one player. This should be the first really good test for the Wolverines. A home win here would also give the Big Ten a chance to (finally) win the BigTen/ACC Challenge. More on that as the event approaches.
December 5: Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Home, BigTenNetwork.com or ESPNU
2009 Record: 13-18, 12-8 SWAC
2009 Final RPI: 250
2009 Final Pomeroy: 311
Key Players: Senior guard Terrance Calvin was the team's leader last year, playing the most minutes, dishing out the most assists, and consistently drawing fouls. 6-7 forward Tyree Glass, a senior, took up the most possessions for the Golden Lions, while pulling down the most offensive rebounds and drawing the most fouls. Sophomore guard Savalance Townshend has an awesome name, and played the second-most minutes on the team, while committing the fewest fouls. Senior forward Tavaris Washington was the team's best shooter, and he was also second in both block percentage and steal percentage. He got to the foul line more than any other player for Pine Bluff.
Key Losses: Arkansas-Pine Bluff didn't have any seniors last year, but forward Ricky Parks and guard Eric Brooks are not on this year's roster. Parks got limited playing time and didn't accrue any meaningful stats, but Brooks played 41% of available minutes, and was the team's steals leader.
Notes: Pine Bluff will be Michigan's second experienced opponent in a row, though they don't have nearly the talent that Boston College does. They were a poor team last year, but should be improved. Off three days' rest, this could be a tough turnaround for Michigan, but both games are at home, and it's difficult (though not impossible) to see an upset in the making.
December 9: Utah
Away, CBS College Sports
2009 Record: 24-8, 15-4 Mountain West
2009 Final RPI: 9
2009 Final Pomeroy: 30
Key Players: Utah was a very experienced team last year, and they lost a lot of talent. The key returners for the Utes are junior guard Carlon Brown, who was a liability shooting the ball, but assisted others at a good clip, while pulling down a ton of rebounds, and Luka Drca, another big guard (both are 6-5) who led the team in assists and was a good shooter. 6-11 Frenchman Kim Tillie will likely occupy the middle in his senior season, and sophomore wing Jace Tavita will hope to get more playing time than he did last year. Redshirt sophomore David Foster hasn't played for Utah yet, but he is an enormous center at 7-3.
Key Losses: Center Luke Nevill played the most minutes on the team, absorbed the most possessions, and led the team in rebounding, blocks, and drawing fouls. He is a big loss, both literally and figuratively. Wing Lawrence Borha and guard Tyler Kepkay played the second- and third-most minutes on the team, respectively. Forward Shaun Green had the team's best offensive rating, as he led in shooting and turnover percentage, and was third in assists.
Notes: Though Utah lost a ton of talent from last year's team, this is still Michigan's first true road game, which should be a good test. The Utes have lots of size, and that could cause matchup problems for Michigan's slightly-smaller team.
December 13: Detroit
Home, Big Ten Network
2009 Record: 6-23, 2-17 Horizon
2009 Final RPI: 281
2009 Final Pomeroy: 279
Key Players: 6-7 forward Thomas Kennedy, a senior, used the most possessions (and took the most shots) of any Titan last year. Alas, he wasn't particularly good at shooting, which is pretty much the same story for the rest of the team. 6-7 forward Xavier Keeling returns after missing most of last year with a foot injury. Senior guard Woody Payne played the most minutes on the team, leading in assists, steals, and free throw rate. Fellow senior guard Eulis Stephens has better size at 6-5, but took a lot of shots and didn't make very many of them.
Key Losses: Forwards Nemanja Jokic and Michael Harrington are no longer with the team, and Harrington was a key part of the Titans' effort last year. He led in rebounding on both ends of the floor, and also drew a bunch of fouls from the opposition.
Notes: Detroit was a bad team last year, and there's no reason to expect any thing other than that for this year as well. Having Keeling all season might help, as he played one season for Indiana back before the Hoosiers were a laughingstock. Still, he's not a can't-miss prospect, on a team that direly needs one.
December 19: Kansas
2009 Record: 25-7, 14-3 Big 12
2009 Final RPI: 11
2009 Final Pomeroy: 10
Key Players: Oh god, just take your pick. Point guard Sherron Collins is on the (very) short list of Naismith candidates, Center Cole Aldrich is a terror in the paint, guard Tyshawn Taylor is exceptional at getting to the basket (or getting fouled on the way there), and guard Brady Morningstar is not only Lucifer, but a deadly 3-point shooter. This team is frickin' loaded.
Key Losses: Nobody. The Jayhawks didn't lose a single important contributor.
Notes: Oh, so that's why they're the consensus number one team in the country, huh? If there's one thing the Jayhawks don't have, it's a ton of size. Still. Kansas is freakin' loaded, and Michigan's goal will probably be not getting blown out.
December 22: Coppin State
2009 Record: 12-19, 10-8 MEAC
2009 Final RPI: 221
2009 Final Pomeroy: 266
Key Players: Sophomore wing guard Michael Harper was Coppin State's most effective offensive player last year, and also the team's best shooter. He'll probably lead Coppin this year. Guard Vince Goldsberry will play a bigger role, and senior Sam Coleman will hold down the middle after leading the team in rebounding and blocks last year.
Key Losses: Guard Tywain McKee did everything for Coppin State last year, playing nearly every available minute, taking up a ton of possessions, leading in assists, stealing the ball a bunch, and drawing fouls. Yeah, he's gone, as is Chuka Iloegbu, a 6-3 forward who played about half of the team's minutes.
Notes: One really interesting thing pops out about Coppin State - they don't foul a whole lot, with 4 players from last years roster coming in ranked for fewest fouls committed per 40 minutes. They're also a pretty small team, and MIchigan should be able to take care of them pretty easily.
January 17: Connecticut
2009 Record: 27-4, 15-4 Big East
2009 Final RPI: 8
2009 Final Pomeroy: 3
Key Players: Senior guard Jerome Dyson led the team in steals last year, and was pretty good at drawing fouls. He was pretty good (though not great) in a number of other categories as well, though he missed 12 games for the Huskies. Sophomore guard Kemba Walker was a good assist man, and got to the line at a decent clip. Senior forward Stanley Robinson has been a good offensive rebounder and blocker.
Key Losses: You may have heard of this Hasheem Thabeet fellow, who went #2 overall in the NBA draft. Guard AJ Price was also drafted, though in the second round. Other losses include forward Jeff Adrien, who actually played the most minutes of anyone on the team, and guard Craig Austrie, who took very good care of the ball last year.
Notes: Michigan fans may remember that, despite Thabeet getting the full Blake Griffin treatment from the officials, the Wolverines lost by just 8 at UConn this year. The 2009-10 Huskies are not nearly as good (though they still do have a couple projected draft picks on their team), and MIchigan has them at home. This should be a tough battle, and it's too bad it has to come in the middle of a tough conference stretch with Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State.
AnnArbor.com's basketball beat writer, Mike Rothstein, was kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions about the upcoming basketball season. If you want the opportunity to ask him some questions of your own, he'll be participating in a live chat on AnnArbor.com today at noon.
1) For the first time in recent history, the Michigan Men's basketball team probably has higher expectations than the football team. Is this Michigan basketball team capable of handling the pressure of expectations?
A: I think so. Having a freshman point guard concerns me, but Darius Morris seems to be pretty mature for his age. Plus, Beilein is pretty high on him overall and believes he'll pick up his systems quickly, so that shouldn't be too much of an issue. It's an interesting question because none of these guys have been in this situation before, at least not since high school. Not being picked in the top three of the Big Ten, as odd as it sounds, might have helped because that's one less preseason accolade around this group. But the way they shook off being No. 15 in the country – in some ways, it really seemed not to matter to them – sold me that they should be OK.
2) With a more talented roster than last year's team, is it Sweet 16 or bust for this squad?
A: Perhaps, but that's the thing when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Save for four to six teams, it really is all about the draw you receive. It's why a lot of times, upsets can be predicted – Winthrop over Notre Dame in 2007, Villanova over Clemson in 2008 and Western Kentucky over Illinois last year. Those are just three examples but it all comes down to how a team is playing at the end of the year and what the first-round opponent looks like. For instance, if Michigan were matched up in the first round with a team that had a 6-11, 6-10, 6-8 front line, that would probably be a bad thing. That said, this team is certainly capable – from both talent and coaching standpoints – to make a serious run. But when it comes to March, look at that draw. The worst possible scenario for any team is to see a veteran mid-major or low major team that has been to the tournament the year before and put a scare into a high seed. Those teams often break through the next year.
3) Last year's team had vocal leadership from seniors CJ Lee and David Merritt. Those two are both gone, so is somebody going to be a vocal leader? Or is it more likely that somebody (i.e. Manny Harris and/or DeShawn Sims) simply leads by example?
A: It's funny you ask this because it was one of the first things I noticed about this team once I was around them for more than 10 minutes. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are the leaders on the court and will have to lead by example. Both are working on the vocal parts of being a leader and Harris told me he has gotten on guys in practice and in the summer workouts led by the players. But the guy who stands out to me as the vocal guy is Zack Novak. He has a lot of respect in Michigan's locker room and both Harris and Sims have said he's part of that leadership core. When I watched one of the track workouts before the season, Novak was literally encouraging almost everyone. He'd pick up Ben Cronin, who was still returning from injury, after a set and he'd cheer Anthony Wright – who was coming off his own injury – as he crossed the finish line. Sims and Harris will lead, but Novak is really a hidden key there.
4) Which players are expected to contribute this year that the average Michigan fan might not know from last year?
A: Tough to say since a year ago I was watching a highly-ranked team drop into the NIT (more on that Notre Dame team in one of the later questions). But I'm really high on Ben Cronin if for no other reason than should he put it together by midseason he gives Michigan a different look than the Wolverines have had, and that is a legitimate 7-footer. I think you're going to see great leaps in play from Novak and a more consistent effort from Laval Lucas-Perry now that he's had another summer in Ann Arbor. Also, Matt Vogrich is a deadly shooter. It might take him a little while to find his rhythm in college – he has to adjust to bigger, stronger defenders, a faster pace and a slightly deeper three-point line – but he's going to be an asset by season's end. Zack Gibson has also appeared to have more consistency so far. If he can even come close to resembling Kevin Pittsnogle – and that's not an easy thing to do – for this Michigan team, that could be really dangerous.
5) Which player that did play a big role last year is most-improved for this season?
A: I hinted at it earlier, but I really believe it is Novak. You could even argue Manny Harris here because pro scouts have really raved about him and he feels like he's more consistent, but Novak got rid of some of the excess bad weight he was carrying. He's a dirty-work player who can also shoot it well. In some ways, his game reminds me of Purdue's Chris Kramer in how he does the little things and is a very good glue guy, although Kramer is a better defender. Darius Morris is the X-factor on this team, but if Novak becomes a consistent third scoring option behind Harris and Sims, that will bode well for Michigan.
6) John Beilein has never taken a team past the Elite Eight. Can a team running his system make it all the way?
A: That's a really, really good question. Some of his past teams, I think that answer would be no. But I think the Final Four is possible and then from there, you never know. Remember, that West Virginia team that went to the Elite Eight was probably a basket or two in regulation away from beating Louisville and heading to the Final Four. It wasn't like they ran out of gas until perhaps the overtime of the Elite Eight game. While I don't think Beilein would say this, I believe this team has the chance to be more athletic and versatile than that team. If Manny Harris can stay healthy, having him and Darius Morris driving to the basket will create holes for shooters. Defensively, as long as the combination of man-to-man and 1-3-1 is humming along they'll have a shot in most games. Beilein is a heck of a game-day coach and in the tournament, those types of coaches usually are the ones that end up in the Final Four.
7) Is Michigan poised to make a major run at Michigan State as the instate power?
A: Not yet. Not as long as Tom Izzo and Michigan State keep reaching Final Fours with relative consistency. The Spartans have been to more Final Fours recently than any program in the country. Recruits, until Michigan shows consistency with reaching and advancing in the NCAA tournament, want to play for Izzo. What Michigan can likely hope for in the next few years, if Beilein continues on his current trajectory, is a situation similar to what things look like in the states of Kentucky, North Carolina and at least until recently, Indiana. Two programs considered among the Top 15-20 in the country almost annually with alternating turns at the top. Michigan has a ways to go to reach that point again consistently still but it's not unheard of. The past tradition is there.
8) What needs to happen for Michigan to make a run at the conference title?
A: Going back to the previous question, I'm not sure that they have enough firepower or depth to get there. Michigan State is an awfully good team this year. I ranked them No. 2 on my AP ballot in the preseason. Purdue, while I'm reserving complete judgment until I see a healthy Robbie Hummel for a few games, is right on par with them. Barring injuries, those are likely your top two. No reason to think Michigan couldn't finish third. I have them as the third-highest Big Ten team on my AP ballot and I voted them third in the Big Ten media poll.
A third-place finish will garner an NCAA berth and considering the depth of the Big Ten this year, likely a pretty high seed. But to answer your question, I think they'd need to pretty much win out at home in the league and pick off a few of the tougher games (Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota) on the road. Staying healthy is also going to be key. Michigan, while they have a nine-to-10 man rotation, can't afford to have one of its Top 4 guys (Harris, Sims and Novak along with Morris being the likely point guard) go down. The depth just isn't completely there yet. When I did my preseason prognosticating, I said Michigan would be 11-7 in the Big Ten. While I don't think that'll be enough to win the league, it'll be enough for the tournament.
9) What circumstances would lead to Michigan missing the NCAA Tournament?
A: An long-term injury to a key player (Harris, Sims, Novak, Morris) would be a killer. But providing Michigan stays healthy, remember earlier when I said I'd discuss Notre Dame's season last year, this is where it goes. Notre Dame, if you remember, was tabbed to be a potential Final Four team in the preseason after a second-round showing in the NCAA tournament a year earlier. They were a veteran team, didn't really lose a lot (other than current NBA D-Leaguer Rob Kurz) and had two stars returning in Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney. This year's Michigan team is somewhat veteran, didn't lose a ton (although C.J. Lee and David Merritt were big from a leadership standpoint) and have two returning stars in Harris and Sims. But the Big East last year – like the Big Ten this year – was stacked with a ton of talent and depth. You knew going in there were going to be one or two teams in the Big East that got swallowed by the league. There ended up being two that were ranked in the Top 10 at some point in the year and ended up in the NIT. Notre Dame was one. Georgetown was the other.
I get the same feeling about the Big Ten this year, where one of the projected Top 7 or 8 will just get crushed by the power of the league. Michigan's non-conference schedule should be strong enough (Old Spice, at Utah, at Kansas, BC, UConn) where barring an epic collapse in the Big Ten the Wolverines should be in for sure if they win a couple of those games. But there's a stretch of games that could be a confidence killer (it's what happened to Notre Dame and to a lesser extent, Georgetown) in the midst of the conference slate. Notre Dame lost 7 straight (six to Top 25 teams) which killed NCAA tournament hopes. Starting with Indiana at home on Jan. 14, the Wolverines then have Connecticut at home followed by at Wisconsin and at Purdue. Then they come home to play Michigan State. Those five games, in that order, represent the toughest stretch of the season and one that could send most teams in the country spiraling. Get through that and Michigan should be OK. Go 0-fer and then it becomes a bit dicey.
Predict: Michigan's final record: 21-9 regular season, 11-7 Big Ten
Michigan's team MVP: Manny Harris (although it wouldn't stun me if DeShawn Sims won it)
Michigan's Post-season Result: No. 5 seed NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16
The Big Ten Champion: Michigan State (regular season); Purdue (conference tourney)
Number of Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament: 7
The final score of Michigan's first game on Saturday: Michigan 82, Northern Michigan 61.