"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
Part the Second of the basketball preview. Previously: Media Day
Not to be one of those schools that looks at its football team headed to a weak bowl or worse in November and says "Hey, basketball," but...
Though the Europe trip accelerated the learning process for a young Michigan team, this is still a squad whose elder statesmen (and only players with experience at all) equal two juniors and a sophomore.
Darius Morris - So.
Darius took on a big role for this Michigan team as a true freshman last year, splitting point guard duties with Stu Douglass. Morris, like many freshmen (aside from the one-and-done types), came into college with a lot to learn, and struggled through some growing pains last year. He showed flashes of brilliance, and if he can play with a calm demeanor (and maybe shoot a little better) a second-year leap is in order.
He had an 84/51assist/turnover ratio, and if that improves in his second season, the improvement from the floor is bonus. He finished shooting 52.34 eFG% last year. Like everyone else was dismal from behind the arc. Michigan's coaches have praised the improvement of his shot during the offseason, saying Darius put in the work to become more consistent. Beilein has said that he doesn't need to be a shooter, just a guy who can make defenses pay if they don't play him right.
Morris's stats on the Europe trip don't inspire confidence, unfortunately. He finished with an eFG of 29.41% and made only a third of his free throws. Without making excuses there are mitigating factors, such as the 24-second clock leaving Michigan's offense scrambling to get off a shot - that burden falls primarily on the point guard - and playing against teams that have been together for more than 10 practices, are a few years older, etc. That sample size is small.
Stu Douglass - Jr.
Stu played much of last year at the point guard position, which he didn't play in high school. He had some success but the move probably contributed to his struggles shooting. He did find a surprising ability to defend a lot of very good players, particularly in the Big Ten.
He had a dismal 45.37 eFG% despite being Michigan's most effective 3-point shooter among regular contributors at 32.9%. That means he was just plain bad from inside the arc, partially a product of playing point guard for the first time (and being saddled with some last-second plays against the shot clock, like Morris was in Europe).
This season, Stu will again have to play some point guard in place of Darius Morris, but will hopefully spend more at his more natural 2-guard position. His shooting might improve accordingly, which could make him a very real threat from outside the arc. If his stats in Europe are any indication, his three-point shot may be on the upswing. He shot 40% from behind the arc, 46.67% after the first game.
Tim Hardaway Jr. - Fr.
Hardaway has been a pleasant surprise since he set foot on campus in July. The son of the former NBA guard doesn't have the same crossover dribble that made his father famous, but he's a good shooter who led the Wolverines in scoring on their trip to Europe at a 57.35 eFG%.
For the Wolverines to exceed (low) pre-season expectations, Hardaway will have to continue his strong performances to date, and keep up his scoring and all-around production. He was second on the squad in rebounding, fourth in assists, and amongst the PT leaders in Europe.
Zack Novak - Jr.
The contributions of Zack Novak over the past two years have been admirable, as he's mostly played out of position at the 4, guarding guys who are at least half a foot taller than him. With a bit of frontcourt depth on the team, he may finally be able to play at a more natural position.
A position change for Novak means his production will be a bit of a question mark. Over the past couple of seasons, Beilein has attributed Novak's shooting troubles to getting worn out on the defensive end of the floor. With that no longer an issue, he could develop into a solid offensive player and secondary option.
We already know Zack's going to be tough on both ends of the floor, and he has underrated athleticism. He was already pulling down decent rebounding numbers while being boxed out by much bigger players.
Matt Vogrich - So.
Vogrich came into Michigan as a pure shooter, and Wolverine fans though something along the lines of "a 6-4 white guy who can shoot the hell out of the ball: a perfect John Beilein recruit!" But it was clear from the start that Vogrich didn't have a college-ready body, and he struggled enough defensively that he only averaged a couple minutes a game in 30 appearances.
A shooter he is though, as he nailed 39% of his 28 3-pointers a season ago, and ended up with a 53.57 eFG%. After a year of conditioning and practice time, he should be more physically able to handle playing both sides of the court at this level, and should be a major contributor this season.
In Europe, Matt started every game, averaging over 20 minutes a game. He made the most of that time, shooting 72 eFG%, and leading the team in... rebounds? If he continues to do that over the course of the season, it probably means Michigan is getting killed on the glass. If he's got a 72 eFG% Michigan's blazing from outside, though.
Colton Christian - Fr.
We don't know a whole lot about Christian outside of his recruiting profile because he was limited in pre-Europe practice by an injured hamstring that kept him out of all the games across the pond. He's a primarily defensive player with good athleticism and an improving offensive game. He will split time with Smotrycz at the four, with only occasional appearances at that spot from Novak.
Evan Smotrycz - Fr.
Michigan got in on Smotrycz (mnenomic: Shoot More On The Run You Cocaine Zombie) before the recruiting services though of him as a hot commodity, but they came around by Signing Day, He eventually landed at four stars, and Rivals' #59 player nationally. In Europe, he was the team's fifth-leading scorer on an eFG of 40.38%. He's a big player, and has the athleticism to be a scorer, but from what I saw in summer practices he's still got some learning to do to become a true post threat, especially in a physical league like the Big Ten (unlike in football, the distinction is accurate in basketball).
Blake McLimans - Fr.
As pointed out by Dylan at UMHoops, McLimans is one of the oldest freshmen in the nation, with a year of prep school and a redshirt under his belt. He should be ready to contribute physically (though he had trouble with sprint drills in summer practices), and the question is whether his lack of on-court experience will hinder him.
Among the centers, he's the best shooter, which should give him a leg up on a John Beilein team. He got the most playing time in Europe, getting all four starts. He's also the most experienced, which is scary because at right is the closest thing I have to an action shot of him.
Jordan Morgan - Fr.
A decent recruit coming out of high school, Jordan Morgan's career-to-date has been sidetracked by one injury after another (he redshirted as a true freshman last year). He told me at media day that he's finally healthy, and ready to contribute. He's the most traditional post player of Michigan's centers, and likely the best rebounder.
In Europe, Jordan shot the ball very well (I assume mostly easy finishes under the basket), but didn't attempt a single three-pointer.
Jon Horford - Fr.
Horford was a project coming out of high school, albeit one with decent skill and bloodlines (you may have heard of his father Tito or brother Al). He is need of some physical development and skill work before being ready to play. Michigan probably won't have the luxury of redshirting him, and the coaching staff has talked up his willingness to put in the work in order to improve, so he should be able to get some minutes. They'll probably be the least of the three.
I don't intend to insult Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person, and Eso Akunne by including them in their own separate, branded category, but if the Wolverines are forced to rely on these guys as much more than practice players this season, it means something has gone David Cone wrong.
They'll all get a few minutes here and there to rest the rotation players, and may even have a few moments in the spotlight, but their primary duty will be preparing the other guys in practice. Combined, they averaged less than two minutes on the court per games last season.
A few updates from basketball, as I've had a couple chances to watch the team practice this week, and also talk to a few players and coach Beilein. (Images from Michigan Basketball on Facebook).
The team leaves for Europe today, and the rest of their schedule will be as follows:
- Saturday - Practice in Brussels.
- Sunday - Play Ghent at 4pm (local time).
- Monday - Play Charleroi at 7pm.
- Tuesday - Team trip to Paris.
- Wednesday - Tour Brugge in the morning, play Oostand at 8:30pm.
- Thursday - Play Mons at 7pm.
- Friday - Tour Amsterdam
- Saturday - Return to USA.
The Wolverines' administrative assistant, former Wolverine Travis Conlan, was responsible for setting up most of the games. He's recently played for Mons.
Conlan said the competition will be a little bit better than your average Big Ten team. Ghent is one of the worst teams in Belgium, but the other three squads are traditionally at the top of the table. The teams are mostly composed of guys who were the best player at a mid-major school but didn't make it into the NBA.
To follow the team in Europe, log on to MGoBlue.com, where there should be several manager/player diaries daily. If you become a fan of Michigan basketball on Facebook, they're also planning to post flipcam videos as well. Stats and game recaps will be published as well.
As for what they plan to get out of the trip, Beilein said "Just seeing where we are, as far as our conditioning, how tough we are, what we have. To give them a measuring stick and give us a measuring stick."
Prior to scheduling the trip, Beilein also wanted to make the trip the culmination of a for-credit summer class on European history or culture for the players, but everything happened so fast that there wasn't time to establish a curriculum.
Personnel and Tempo
The main lineups from Sunday's scrimmage, in order of appearance, were the following:
Jon Horford was mostly running with the scout team (otherwise composed of walkons), but he and McLimans switched at the very end of the scrimmage. Andy Beilein tweeted earlier that the first lineup listed above, except with Hardaway replacing Vogrich, was "Just a thought." Coach Beilein said yesterday that Vogrich was likely to start in Europe, however.
The most notable thing from the scrimmage was the tempo of the offense. There was a lot of fast break. Darius Morris looked pretty good running it - he looks a lot more confident in all phases of the game. There are some factors pushing the change that won't apply during the season (playing against walkons, playing with a 24-second clock), but when asked about it, Douglass and Novak both mentioned that pushing the tempo is a point of emphasis for the team this entire year. Douglass said, "We're trying to push the tempo throughout the year, the entire year." Novak added, "I mean, that's just an emphasis for the year that we've got."
Blake McLimans needs to improve his conditioning. In a running drill on Sunday, he was unable to finish in the time limit, and he missed a couple fast-break opportunities yesterday because he was slow getting up the court. Morris and Douglass were in the center of the line for sprints, and were far faster than everyone else. Corey Person was next-fastest, for what it's worth.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz look like the real deal. Smotrycz seems to be one of the better shooters on the team, but it also able to play in the post quite a bit. Hardaway has a pure stroke and can pull up from a lot of different spots on the floor.
Jon Horford (at right) needs to add some weight, and he's a raw prospect. However, Beilein said "We have some sponges on this team, and I mean that really want to get better. Just watching, for example, Jon Horford today, that's all he wants to do," and it seemed like he had improved a bunch between Sunday and today. Colton Christian wasn't practicing full-court either day, as he re-injured his hamstring. He'll travel to Europe, but it's possible he doesn't see any court time.
For much more on individual players, check out UMHoops.
This is a very young team, with the entire upperclass contingent consisting of two juniors. However, they seem to be developing. Being able to get 10 extra practice days in the summer and actually play some competitive games in the pre-season will hopefully help the young guys be ready to contribute, almost like spring enrollees for football.
The chemistry, camaraderie, and leadership on this team should be an upgrade as well. Though DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris were great players, they weren't the vocal leaders that a young team needs, and on-court chemistry was lacking last season.
Is this an NCAA Tournament team? Probably not. Is it an NIT team? Probably not. But it should be a fun team to watch over the course of the season, as they grow individually and as a collective.
About that banner contest: obviously, it has not come off. This is because I am working on Hail To The Victors 2010, a process that should be complete in a couple weeks, at which point we will kick festivities off. If you wanted to submit a banner the door is still open.
Also in sitebulletins: there's a wiki page up designed to be an inclusive list of whatever the community thinks is worth keeping around in an easily-accessible form. Trusted users (>500 points) can edit it. It's available under the "Useful Stuff" tab.
Olympic Mascot Horror Lookalike. The Olympic mascots:
Yes, they're terrifying. Yes, they're hovering. It is now time for everyone to figure out what they look like from your childhood. My entry: the Spathi from Star Control 2. They're cowardly mollusks!
I'm waiting for the day when the Olympic mascots look like the Umgah. (Also: SC2 was released as open source and is now available in a form that functions on modern computers. If you didn't play it back in the day you'll probably find it too clunky, but anyone looking for a blast from the past will enjoy a game still in my top five list all time.)
Guh. I know this is a very nice column with many nice things to say about Zack Novak and Manny Harris, but… just dude dude no:
Manny, Manny kudos to Wolverines' Novak
| Five minutes with most NBA Draft prospects and you can tell if they have character; if you can pay them a fortune to represent your team and not lose sleep at night.
You know they've got game, but can you trust them?
Five minutes is all it takes.
Do their faces light up when talking about the game? You need that, rookie or vet, in an 82-game season.
And so forth and so on with the one-sentence paragraphs hot of the cliché press. Anyway, apparently Harris patterns his game after George Hill. Do you know who George Hill is? He's a 6'2" point guard who started about half of the Spurs' games this year because Tony Parker was injured. He averaged 12 points per game. He's also a 40% three-point shooter. Manny Harris compares himself to a player who is 1) nothing like him and 2) not even that good. I don't even know what's going on. What is going on? I don't know.
He's very nice and says nice things about Zack Novak when asked about it by a guy who speaks like a slightly deranged man, offering staccato blips about what's important in Northwest Indiana. Then, to see if he can get away with it, he compares himself to a cucumber. But, like, the cucumber that plays for the Timberwolves. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Moving on up. The Big Ten is pushing for an earlier start to official visits, namely June:
"So many kids are taking unofficial visits right now and the cost to families is astronomical trying to go see X amount of schools in June,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It only makes sense. How many of these kids are making early decisions, making verbal commitments, without ever taking an official visit that you can pay for to be on campus for that 48-hour window?"
This is an obvious thing for the Big Ten to push for since top recruits are concentrated in the South these days and getting a kid to campus radically increases your chance of signing him. It also reflects the changing reality of recruiting, where a ton of kids are off the board by the start of their senior seasons. Undoubtedly, the SEC and Big 12 will try to shoot it down but what their rationale could possibly be is a mystery.
Also, there's the now-usual assertion that an early signing period is on its way:
"The coaches are in favor of [an early signing period], most of the leagues are in favor of it," Alvarez said. "Somehow it got stopped in legislation last year. We're not really sure where, but everyone seems to be in favor of it. That wasn't the case a few years ago. A few years ago, it was split 50-50."
As I've said before, I don't see why there have to be signing periods at all. Just implement a system where any time a prospect wants he can be put on a non-binding "do not call" list that exempts one school. Coaches can't contact a player on the list and players can't take official visits to schools other than the exempted one. That way the "verbal commitment" actually means something without locking in a player in case of a coaching change.
Lethal. One of Michigan's soccer recruits got a shiny thing. That's incoming freshman striker Soony Saad and the Sports Drink Co Soccer Player Of The Year Award. Saad got it for scoring 76(!!!) goals this season and leading his team to the… round of 16. It's his measly 15 assists that did them in.
The Saad shiny thing dossier:
An All-America first team selection by ESPN RISE and a National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American in 2009, Saad was also the 2008 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Player of the Year. The Michigan Soccer Coaches Association's Mr. Soccer this past fall, Saad concluded his high school career with a state-record 172 goals to go along with 51 assists.
Good lord. Does this happen in high school soccer programs? Do people just put up like three goals a game? Dearborn is representing of late, what with Miss USA and Saad.
He should be an impact player at Michigan immediately after choosing Michigan over UCLA and Akron, which latter is a much bigger deal than it sounds. #1 Akron was undefeated last year until the NCAA final and stomped Michigan 5-1 during the regular season. The entirety of their starting defense was named to the US-U20 team. Akron is no joke.
Etc.: Six Zero continues his series profiling the many eccentric characters who comprise the MGoCommunity. This edition features MS Paint maestro The Shredder. The RCMB spends much time putting video game Tate Forcier in compromising positions. The new Miss USA drops a "Go Blue" on the Today show, then explains her stripper pictures. Win? Win. Cam Gordon is Bruce Feldman's #2 breakout star of spring.
Michigan 13-14 (6-9 Big Ten)
OK, I swear I'm going to stop trying to come up with clever titles for the last couple games unless something really hits me (maybe "Euthanasia" for the Big Ten Tournament loss). Midway through the first half of this game, it was going just as expected: Michigan was getting absolutely killed even if the scoreboard didn't show it. My ongoing sense of basketball malaise had already set in. Then, early in the second half, something funny happened: they started fighting back. It's just like this Michigan basketball team to keep me emotionally invested before ripping my heart out. Predictably, after taking a brief lead they collapsed, allowing the Illini to cruise to a comfortable win.
This game was a microcosm of the season: ultimately disappointing, but with enough hope sprinkled in to make it actually hurt so the fans can't just stay numb. Another microcosm of the season? A sequence late in the second half. Michigan nearly forces a shot-clock violation. Brandon Paul blatantly travels (uncalled, of course), before getting the ball to DJ Richardson, who hoists a 30-footer that barely beats the 35-second buzzer. Win for the defense, right? The ball ricochets directly to Mike Tisdale, and the Illini get some easy second-chance points.
This had to be one of the worst shooting performances Michigan could have put forth (and no, idiot who sits behind press row, it's not on the coaches—like they can hear your whiny bellowing anyway). They were getting open shots from three-point range and mid-range, they were getting into the lane for easy layups—this was not a failure of offensive design. However, the final shooting numbers were ugly: 24.6% from the field, 29.2 eFG%.
There was nothing the coaches could do to get the team shooting better. Can't make an outside shot? Go inside to DeShawn (3-12 on two-pointers). DeShawn's not scoring? Let Manny drive the lane (4-12 on two-pointers). The only people that had anything resembling a spark for Michigan were Zack Novak and Zack Gibson. Gibby shot 50% (1/4 from three-point land) and Novak made four threes.
As the season winds down, and it's clear that nothing's going to change with this team, I start begging for a painless release. They've lost confidence, and rightfully so, and probably the only thing that's going to restore it at this point is to move on from the 2009-10 season.
- Layups. Dude, layups. Michigan missed 15 of them. Nothing was working. If the Wolverines make half of those, this game is easily won.
- As much as it was a horrible performance by the team at large in shooting the ball, DeShawn Sims probably had the worst performance in comparison to expectations. He's been beyond solid all year long, and Michigan needed him today, but he couldn't come through. Fortunately, he still managed to put in some solid work on the glass.
- That said, somebody, anybody other than DeShawn Sims has to be able to put the ball in the hoop.
- A few steps forward over the year for Darius Morris, but this was a step back. 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 1-7 shooting. However, he was relied on to shoot much more than usual this game, and once he can get a consistent stroke and form, he should be a real weapon.
- For all those who were outraged at Stu Douglass for not going after an offensive rebound against Penn State, you got what was coming to you last night. He went after a loose ball, and it led to an easy Illinois dunk on the fast break.
- Is it next year yet?
The Wolverines head to Value City Arena to take on Ohio State on Saturday at noon. Though Michigan beat the Buckeyes at home on January 3rd, the bad guys were without Evan Turner, who is among the front runners for National Player of the Year. This should be an ugly contest for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines head to Value City Arena to take on Ohio State on Saturday at noon. Though Michigan beat the Buckeyes at home on January 3rd, the bad guys were without Evan Turner, who is among the front runners for National Player of the Year. This should be an ugly contest for the Wolverines.
Michigan 75, Detroit 64. Michigan 5-4 (0-0 Big Ten)
At halftime, this game was looking like it might be just the latest in a series of disappointments in this young basketball season. Detroit led the Wolverines 36-33, and Michigan couldn't make a defensive stop to save their lives. If you had told me that it would be Michigan's defense that would carry the second half, I would have laughed in your face. The team put in a great defensive effort in the second half though, and the Wolverines were able to capitalize and get the 11-point victory.
Zack Novak, despite a poor day offensively, came away with a huge block on a transition play for the Titans. Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims carried the offensive torch for Michigan, and it was the first game in a while that they were both able to really get going at once. Manny finished with 27 points, and was a single rebound away from the double-double.
The outside shooting is still not where it should be, but 33% from behind the arc was a definite improvement over the past few weeks. If the defensive intensity can continue over the rest of the season, Michigan may have turned an important corner today. When opponents don't score, Michigan can keep games close and the shooting will come around eventually.
- Deshawn Sims was spectacular today. He scored 23 points on just 12 shots. Defensively, he was a little weak in the first half, but he was one of the guys who really turned it on after halftime.
- Rough day for freshmen. Darius Morris and Matt Vogrich both get very little run. Vogrich was in for just a minute, and still managed to commit a turnover. Eso Akunne was the best freshman on the court.
- The rotation was really small today. 5 players played 30 minutes or more, and only two other guys (Morris and Zack Gibson) had double-digit minutes.
- As mentioned above, the shooting was much better than it has been lately, but there's still some room for improvement. Stu Douglass and Zack Novak are just going to tear up the nets at some point.
- Michigan outrebounded the opponent(!) but didn't force too many turnovers (7). Bizarre day, given the style that the Wolverines usually play.
- How in the world did Detroit land two transfers from Indiana? That should be a pretty good team in the near future.
"He knows we need him. That's something we talked about, and he just picked it up." Manny Harris, on Deshawn Sims's defensive effort in the second half.
"I think we're just a step slow right now... We've gotta be a little bit quicker." Zack Novak, on the team's defensive struggles this season.
"I just timed it up. You didn't know I could do that, I bet." Zack Novak, on his shot block in the second half.
"We've kinda been trying to play out of what we're capable of. Just stay solid. Stay solid on defense, don't gamble, run the offense. Just do what we've been practicing for the last 2 months." Stu Douglass, on how the team can improve its play.
"I just don't wanna be part of the losing side of that conversation." Deshawn Sims, on playing in-state opponents.
"Down three at the half, I think the guys felt a sense of urgency." John Beilein, on the defensive renaissance in the second half.
"Usually the last thing that comes to young players is defense, not just individually, but also off the ball." John Beilein, on giving freshmen onl limited playing time.
The Wolverines have this week off to take their exams, and then have a date with Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks are the consensus #1 team in the nation, and Michigan will need a small miracle to come home from Lawrence with a win.
Michigan 4-4 (0-0 Big Ten)
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game against Utah is that the team looked, at times, as competent as it's been all year. The rest of the game though, not so much. The shooting woes continued, with the team shooting a collective 34% from the field and a horrendous 55% from the free throw line.
Zack Novak didn't play against the Utes, missing the game with the flu. It's impossible to know whether he would have been the difference in the game, especially since a 6-5 power forward is probably unlikely to see tons of success guarding guys a half-foot taller than him.
The depth is so bad that Ben Cronin actually got first-half minutes, as did walk-on Eso Akunne... and the team might have played better with them in the game than it did without. This whole post is turning out to be really bullet-y, and the heart's not in it, so I might as well get right to the...
- This might sound like a pretty mean-spirited thing to say, but at one point Paul said to me "Why didn't Anthony Wright go on paternity leave or something?" I totally agree. I fail to see why he continues getting minutes, when he's such a liability on both ends of the court. I'm sure he's a great guy, but he's not producing for this team.
- Manny and Deshawn both got going in this game, though they were the only two Wolverines in double digits. Sims only scored 10, but that's not too bad against such a tall lineup. You'd like to see him get enough to keep the defense afraid and open up the outside for the shooters, but...
- AAARGH SHOOTING. It has to get better sometime, right?
- I don't intend to accuse the referees of bias, because I would even guess that Michigan got the better end of more calls last night. Still, holy crap is the officiating in NCAA basketball horrible. Seriously, make me the head of officiating and it will get better in a snap.
- Hats off to Eso Akunne. Dude's a freshman walk-on and he played his ass off.
- I kept waiting for Gibby to break out and do a couple awesome things, but he never did. I guess more playing time wasn't what he needed, one-game sample against a very tall team noted.
- Michigan actually seemed to be forcing a good number of turnovers, both from man and the zone. Unfortunately, they were pretty generous with the ball themselves, and didn't come down with many rebounds.
Detroit comes to Crisler Arena at Noon ET on Sunday. The game will be available on the Big Ten Network. After that, the Wolverines will sacrifice themselves to Kansas the following Saturday.