and... i like them? I think I like them.
basketball preview 2010
Just a year ago, the Michigan basketball team was fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade and expectations were high in Ann Arbor. Two walkons and a Canadian (CJ Lee, David Merritt, and Jevohn Shepherd) were the only departures, and the Wolverines were ready to take the next step forward.
So that went well, right?
Not so much, no.
Michigan sputtered the entire year, unable to find the spark that they'd ridden the previous season thanks in large part to their inability to find the bottom of the net. In retrospect, it should have been obvious: though they weren't frequently deployed, CJ Lee, David Merritt, and Kelvin Grady (who quit the team and eventually joined the football squad instead) were the team's best 3-point shooters. They were also the only point guards on the roster. Maybe those freshman phenoms from Indiana weren't as magical as it seemed.
The Wolverines turned their highest expectations in several years into a 15-17 record. Some losses were embarrassing, and the near upsets of Michigan State and Ohio State both ended with painful daggers from the opponent--one from mid-court.
Manny Harris has taken his talents to the Cleveland Cavaliers. DeShawn Sims took his to Greece, then back to America. Zack Gibson graduated, Anthony Wright is playing out his final year of eligibility at Toledo, Laval Lucas-Perry will ride the bench at Oakland for a season, and the most experienced players in Ann Arbor (outside of the opponents) are a pair of 3-star juniors and a sophomore.
Expectations are low this season, and understandably so. But does that mean Michigan fans should simply forget about the men of Crisler? Zack Novak has thrown himself on the floor, been elbowed in the face, and guarded guys half-a-foot taller than him too many times to be ignored. Stu Douglass has nailed one too many clutch shots, and learned one too many new positions (they call this one "point guard," whatever that is) for this team to simply fade away. Top recruits Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. did not sign up to lose games wearing the maize and blue. These players want to win big games, and they'll probably do it at times this year.
We don't know who will be the stars, or which freshmen will perform. We don't know if Michigan's inexperienced bigs will be able to slow down the likes of Syracuse, Illinois, and Purdue. We don't know if the Wolverines will finally be able to find the bottom of the net after a year of searching, but coming up with mostly iron. We don't know if they'll run an effective 1-3-1 and force opponent turnovers. We don't know what to expect from this team.
Ever the optimist, I think this team will surprise a couple opponents [Ed-M: "Surprise" as in "beat" or as in "ha, bet you didn't know some of us shave!"?]. However, with such a young roster, there's no doubt that they'll be upset themselves. The one thing they can promise, though, is that they'll be fun to watch. Maybe not in every individual game, but seeing these young players grow over the course of the season should be an entertaining - if often frustrating - experience all its own.
And though I mean it every time I say it, this one may come from a little deeper in the heart: Go Blue.
South Carolina Upstate
Nov 13 (Saturday), 7pm.
2009-10 Record: 6-23 (6-14 Atlantic Sun)
Final 2010 Kenpom rank: 280
Key returning players: G Ryan LeGates, F Mezie Uzochukwu, G Josh Chavis.
The USC Upstate Spartans were a very bad basketball team last year, and are likely to see a repeat of that this season, after losing their top two players in 7-3 center Nick Schneiders and 6-5 forward Pat Posey. The Spartans (Not Those Spartans) were horrible on offense, but mediocre defensively, so this should be a good first test for the Wolverines' young offense.
Nov 18, 7pm.
2009-10 Record: 14-16 (6-10 MAC)
Final 2010 Kenpom rank: 206
Key returning players: F Scott Thomas, G Jordon Crawford, F Danny McElroy.
BGSU was below-average both offensively and defensively. They lose the two tallest players from last year's squad in 6-9 centers Otis Polk (a major contributor to the team) and Marc Larson (a role player). They'll have to replace that size with 6-10 freshman Cameron Black and 6-8 senior Mike Dabney, who is in his first year on the squad. With starting guard Jordon Crawford coming in at just 5-6, this will be one of the smaller teams the Wolverines play all year.
Nov 21, 7pm.
2009-10 Record: 8-21 (5-13 Big South)
Final 2010 Kenpom Rank: 331
Key returning players: F Jonathan Moore, G David Brown.
The opening rounds of the Legends Classic does Michigan's RPI no favors, as Bowling Green is followed by Gardner Webb, yet another horrible team. The Runnin' Bulldogs were terrible last year against a ridiculously easy schedule, finishing in the bottom 30 teams in offensive efficiency and the bottom 15 in defensive efficiency. It couldn't get any worse, right? Well, first-year coach Chris Holtmann also loses 4 of the 6 most-deployed players from last season's squad. If this game is anything other than a walk in the park, there's big trouble ahead for the Wolverines.
Nov 26, 8pm (Atlantic City, NJ) - Legends Classic.
2009-10 Record: 30-5 (15-3 Big East)
Final 2010 Kenpom Rank: 4
Key Returning Players: G Scoop Jardine (at right), G Brandon Triche, F Mookie Jones.
Though the Orange lost Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins to the NBA and Arinze Onuaku to expired eligibility, they were such a good team last year, and are a consistent enough power to replace those players (they landed the nation's #5 shooting guard in Dion Walters, #19 small forward in CJ Fair, and #2 center in Fabricio de Melo). By nearly every metric, The Orange (no longer -men) were and will be a better team than the Wolverines, and this should be a very tough game for John Beilein's crew to win.
Georgia Tech or UTEP
Nov 27 (Atlantic City, NJ) - Legends Classic.
Barring a major upset over Syracuse, Michigan will face the loser of Georgia Tech/UTEP in the consolation game of the Legends Classic. Georgia Tech was Kenpom's #27 team last year, while the Miners weren't far behind at #37.
Nov 30, 9pm - Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
2009-10 Record: 21-11 (9-7 ACC)
Final 2010 Kenpom Rank: 20
Key Returning Players: G Demontez Stitt, G Tanner Smith, F/C Devin Booker.
Clemson will try to avenge their 2009 Tournament loss to the Wolverines, while Michigan tries to make up for choking away their Big Ten/ACC Challenge game last year against Boston College. The Tigers lost 1st-round draft pick Trevor Booker from last year's team, but return most of a pretty good nucleus. Clemson was a tournament team yet again last year, and particularly excelled on the defensive end (where T. Booker was an All-Conference pick). The Tigers also lost David Potter, whose departure should mean more minutes for Devin Booker.
Dec 4, 1pm.
2009-10 Record: 21-8 (10-4 Ivy)
Final 2010 Kenpom Rank: 120
Key Returning Players: F Kyle Casey, F Keith Wright, G Dee Giger.
Tommy Amaker got revenge on his former employer by leading the Crimson to an upset just a year after getting fired by Michigan. Three short years later, he brings his squad into Crisler Arena to repeat the upset. However, Harvard lost guard Jeremy Lin in the offseason, by far their best player last year. They were decent offensively, and middle-of-the-pack on defense. They only beat one team in the Kenpom top 100 (Boston College, #62) last year, and a loss here would be an upset.
Dec 10, 6:30pm.
2009-10 Record: 14-17 (7-9 Mountain West)
Final 2010 Kenpom rank: 125
Key Returning Players: F Jay Watkins, G Chris Hines.
Michigan traveled out to Salt Lake City last fall and was embarrassed by a pretty bad Utah team in a game that Zack Novak missed with the flu. The Utes will come into Ann Arbor with a very different team, as Luka Drca and Kim Tillie have graduated, while Carlon Brown, Marshal Henderson, and Jordan Cyphers all left the program with eligibility remaining. Michigan's shooting was their downfall in Salt Lake City, and it remains to be seen if the new edition of the Wolverines will be any better in that regard.
North Carolina Central
Dec 14, 7pm.
2009-10 Record: 7-22 (Independent)
Final Kenpom rank: 338
Key Returning Players: NC Central's website doesn't have a 2010-11 roster up(!), so I'll assume every non-senior is back...
But it won't matter. NCC was a horrible basketball team last year, and it should be again this season. Four of the Eagles' seven wins came against non-D1 squads, and they were pasted by such college basketball luminaries as Savannah State and Longwood. They were a horrific team on offense, and a very bad one on defense, and that's a hole that will take more than one year to dig out of.
Dec 18, noon.
2009-10 Record: 26-9 (17-1 Summit)
Final Kenpom rank: 146
Key Returning Players: C Keith Benson, G Larry Wright, G Ledrick Eackles.
The Golden Grizzlies were an NCAA tournament team last year, and a pair of 5th-year seniors in Benson and Wright will try to return them to the promised land. Oakland was a decent offense (outside of their inability to shoot from deep), but a fairly bad defense. Also of note: former Wolverine Laval Lucas-Perry (pictured at right, photo by Paul Nelson of mgoblog) is now on Oakland's roster, though he won't be eligible to play this season.
Dec 23, 6pm.
2009-10 Record: 1-29 (1-17 Northeast)
Final Kenpom rank: 346 (of 347).
Key Returning Players: G Raphael Jordan, F Vlad Kondratyev, F Cecil Gresham, F Claybrin McMath, G Erick Smith.
Bryant was the second-worst team in the country last year, per Ken Pomeroy, so it could be a blessing and a curse that they have many of their major contributors back. Those players probably aren't very good, but there should be improvement in stability. The team's leader in minutes, Chris Birrell, is out the door, but there's really nowhere to go but up.
2009-10 Record: 33-3 (15-1 Big 12)
Final Kenpom rank: 2.
Key Returning Players: F Marcus Morris, C Markieff Morris, G Elijah Johnson.
Hide yo kids, hide yo wife. Despite Kansas losing several players to the NBA, this should be a snuff film masquerading as an intercollegiate sporting event.
The Big Ten comes after the jump, in order of first appearance against Michigan (aside from the two 1-plays, who come last).
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.
Part the First in a preview series for Michigan Men's Basketball
The first part of Media Day was a role reversal of sorts, as Michigan's coaches put reporters through a typical (though abbreviated) workout for the Wolverines. Yours truly is pictured at right (photo by Julian Gonzales of the Free Press) being laughed at by John Beilein.
The workout was fairly light aside from a couple of the exercises that were designed to get our hearts working. It wasn't that tough - unsurprising considering most of the participants were middle-aged, and I'm not. One thing that surprised me was how much of the workout was devoted to injury prevention.
For more on the workout, Mike Rothstein of AnnArbor.com, Rod Beard of the Detroit News, and Joe White of iSportsweb all covered it. iSportsweb also has video, so you can make fun of how hilariously unathletic we writers are:
Player Notes & Quotes
Stu Douglass - The Europe trip helped the process of integrating new guys into the team, and they're poised despite their lack of experience. Guys are willing to put in the work to build something from this team, and to win. There is no making up for the personnel losses from last year's team, they're just looking at this as an entirely new squad.
Zack Novak - The lack of expectations will help motivate the team, and maybe sneak up on some people: "We like the position we're in right now." The goal of the team is to get better and grow each day, not necessarily any win totals. It's on the team leaders to help guide the younger guys toward that goal, and keep them on an even keel - not getting too high or too low. The young guys are going to be able to step up, too. Matt Vogrich "hasn't missed a shot in weeks" and the big guys are working hard - "I can go to battle with someone that's been working like they have."
Evan Smotrycz - The goal for Michigan is to improve to a level where they can compete with Michigan State and other top team in the country on a nightly basis. With no proven talent in the frontcourt, there's pressure for the young guys to perform, but there's also an opportunity for them to grow. The team's leaders have developed and guided the team in the Europe trip, in open gyms, and in workouts. The goal for every college team is to get to the NCAA tournament, but the Wolverines are more concerned with getting better every day and helping the team win.
Matt Vogrich - Novak is the most vocal player on the team, emphasizing toughness both physically and mentally. There are going to be ups and downs over the course of the season, so the players need to be able to play through them and not let their play be affected. Matt isn't necessarily gunning for a starting role, but whatever the team needs from him. He just wants to get enough minutes to prove he's a play that can help the team succeed.
Jordan Morgan - Jordan is finally 100% healthy. He's struggled with a couple different injuries since arriving at Michigan, and he's excited for the opportunity to be healthy. With no game experience in the frontcourt, there's pressure and opportunity to perform.
Coaches need to adapt to twists and turns during the season, but Coach Beilein likes where they're starting the year. There's a competitive spirit within the team, and expects the players to step up, particularly shooting the ball: "We don't have 1/6 nights from three." He urged everyone to look next door to Michigan Stadium if they don't believe this team can improve, saying "Just look at what Denard has done this year." If anybody on Michigan's team makes a similar leap, they'll surprise some opponents this year.
The rotation should be more inclusive this year, featuring 9 or 10 guys. More on Beilein's comments about individual players in the personnel preview coming later this week.