somehow we're only 124th
tim hardaway jr
I don't have anything sweeping to say about last weekend's basketball and hockey games that's not a replica of what I said over the past couple weeks. Depending on whether the hockey team is flinging in seemingly unplanned goals or not the team is either okay or difficult to watch, but they are winning just about as much as anyone else in the country so that's an improvement from last year. The basketball team is desperately young and looks it unless it's flinging in half its three pointers, which it has the last couple games.
But I did go to the Joe and Crisler over the weekend, so some assorted items.
Make it rain. I thought "7 of 17 is pretty good" at halftime, and then Michigan went 7 of 9 in the second half, finishing a second straight game with a 3PT% of essentially 50%. This is obviously unsustainable. The top shooting team in the country is Northern Arizona. They're making 45% from behind the arc… and are 312th in 3PA/FGA. Michigan's sixth in that category. The rims will go clang again when opponents are getting out on Michigan's shooters.
But they count just as much as all those jacked up threes they clattered off rims earlier in the year. Michigan's three point shooting has been steadily improving and now they can claim to be above average for what I believe is probably the first time in the Beilein era. They're up to 34.8%, good for #147. Smotrycz, Vogrich, Novak, and Douglass are all at or above 37%. The only sources of three-point shots that aren't net benefits are Morris, who's at 29% on slightly more than two per game, and Hardaway, who's at 31% with nearly six attempts per.
BTW, Michigan State is enduring an agonizingly similar stretch on defense—opponents are shooting essentially 50% on their last 71(!) attempts from three.
Hardaway volume redux. I don't think I had a problem with more than a couple of Hardaway's many, many shots against the Hawkeyes since he was either launching wide-open threes or dealing with a short shot clock. It's tough to complain when he was 5-10 from behind the arc.
After Beilein said he "almost" has a green light to shoot, which seems like a diplomatic way to say "has a little Stu Douglass disease going on" since apparently everyone else on the team has said light. Hardaway's got the worst two point pecentage on the team* to go with his below-average three pointers.
This isn't a knock on Hardaway's potential—if he can just get himself a little more under control and trust in the guys around him, those numbers should increase drastically. The individual stat that will bear the closest attention as Michigan goes into an important 2011-12 season is Hardaway's offensive efficiency rating. I'm betting it takes a big step forward and Michigan suddenly becomes a tough offense to deal with.
*[Colton Christian's 2-for-11 season excluded.]
Not Hassan Wasabi. I vaguely remember John Gasaway praising some Iowa freshman that Fran McCaffery took with him when he left Siena for Iowa, but didn't remember the name. So I spent a big chunk of the first half alternately angry at Michigan's defense and wondrous that a man named "Hassan Wasabi" was playing for Iowa instead of getting kicked in the face by Bruce Lee. (Or Vogrich @ right).
It eventually dawned on me that the guy's name was "Melsahn Basabe," which is still pretty awesome but doesn't quite live up to my misconceptions.
Also awesome: Basabe himself. If Iowa hadn't hired McCaffery he'd be destroying the MAAC, as Gasaway said. Hell, he's already doing that to the Big Ten: he's shooting 57%, around 100th nationally in OReb%, DReb%, and Blk%. He's a black hole with no assists and plenty of turnovers but dang, man. How was this guy ticketed for Siena?
Defense slowly evaporating. Of course, Michigan's defense had something to do with that. Whenever someone shoots 9 of 11 you've been pwned. Halfway through the conference schedule Michigan has flipped their scouting report from the nonconference—the defense is the relative weak point.
I couldn't tell you why other than to go "youth," but remember earlier in the year when I suggested Michigan would actually be a relatively big team this year? That's not happening because McLimans has played himself out of the rotation, Smotrycz has been erratic, and the two centers have been foul-prone. This results in quite a bit more of Zack Novak at the 4 than anyone wanted or predicted. The kicker: a good chunk of the time that lineup features Smotrycz as a hilariously undersized center. Result: effective height in the bottom third of the nation despite having an average height that's 42nd.
It's going to be up to the freshmen over 6'7" to make this better next year since both recruits are guards. The main problem to my eyes is that Smotrycz doesn't really have a backup. It's either Novak or Christian, neither of whom is a great option.
no blue line for you, except that means all blue line for everyone
Guuuughghghr. Michigan's played some entertaining low-scoring games—Friday against Alaska was one—but they've also played some clunkers, like that OT loss against Ohio State. That was a grunting nothing of a game played mostly between the blue lines that turned on some terrible goaltending. The game against the Joe was the latter. Scoring chances were few and far between anda lot of them were due to error more than someone actually doing something right.
Now I'm full-on worried. Michigan got outshot for the third straight game, this one against the tenth-place team in the CCHA. They've scored two goals in the last three games that weren't shots from the point, and while Caporusso's goal against MSU was a nice effort play by Scooter it was a play where a puck bounced fortuitously, not something Michigan had intent behind. You're going to get your share of those goals over the course of a season but it seems like teams that are Frozen Four good have more goals where plans were successfully executed. Michigan's had very few of those.
Lynch penalty shot. I had no real expectation he'd score, but the way that went down is a depressing summary of where the team is right now. Time was Michigan's second round picks were offensive machines; Michigan's are just guys. Lynch, Rust, Brown, Caporusso—all of them are second or third round draft picks that don't seem to do much in the offensive zone. All are getting outscored by Scooter. That's the big issue with the team—the guys who are supposed to carry the water offensively aren't. They've gotten away with it much of the year thanks to the defensive corps and Rust and Hagelin being an NHL checking line already.
Pairwise. One bad loss and Michigan slides down to ninth. As I said, when I first started looking at the thing a couple weeks ago Michigan was close to their apex with a lot of teams nipping at their heels. They cannot afford to struggle down the stretch.
Hello, Hunwick. Never say Shawn Hunwick can't take advantage of someone else's groin injury. His save percentage was hovering around .900 when Hogan went out. A couple months later he's at .923. Hogan's save percentage this year? .923. Hogan was dressed as the third goalie on Saturday and is close to returning but at this point it's hard to go with him over Hunwick—he's only played nine games in about the past year.
1/27/2011 – Michigan 61, Michigan State 57 – 12-9, 2-6 Big Ten
left two Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
A couple years ago Michigan fans were wondering if they really had something or if an unexpected win against UCLA was just a one-off when they took on Duke in Crisler arena. Michigan won that game, and the moment I remember most was Zack Novak holding his follow-through an ostentatiously long time. He'd just hit a three pointer to push Michigan well in front that sent Crisler into honest-to-God hysterics. It was an ungritty thing to do, but if anyone can justify a little flash now and then it's Zack Novak.
Yesterday Novak had what can only be described as a leadership aneurysm. It was the grittiest twitchy, alarming fit anyone's ever had. MSU fans rushed to put it on the internet the better to mock him by:
This worked out about as well as painting "1,181" across your hairless, AXE-laden chests.
You know this, but: 6 of 8 from three, 19 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and various dogged things that don't show up in the box score but contribute to the bottom line. In the aftermath of the game David Merritt tweeted something about how if you question Zack Novak's importance to the team you "don't understand team sports*". That and math.
Because Michigan followed up a series of promising performances against elite teams with road duds against Indiana and Northwestern, beating Michigan State won't mean anything outside of the thing itself. Michigan's not likely to get even an NIT bid because of the win. Before my fiancée fell asleep for the second half she remarked that even though Michigan was in front "they make everything seem so hard," and they do.
Michigan is aimless. The announcers kept talking about Michigan taking a lot of time off the shot clock like that was a special strategy for this game when they're almost as slow (327th) as they are young (337th) and played at the exact same pace against South Carolina Upstate. When it's going well they're "deliberate," but to my eyes it's a team that doesn't really know what it's doing. They're forced to improvise when time gets low after chucking it around the perimeter for 20 seconds. It's almost exactly what Amaker teams did down to pulling the big out of the lane to provide a low-threat passing option as the ball cycles around the three point line.
The most eye-opening section of the season was the first half against Northwestern, when the Wildcats team ran a series of intricate cuts that opened up Michigan's defense for a rain of open threes and drives into the lane against mis-positioned defenders:
Michigan gets a lot of that from Darius Morris but Northwestern gets it from all over. Morris has an astronomic assist rate but if you compare the teams there are seven(!) Wildcats between him and Stu Douglass, Michigan's #2 guy. Despite the hype about Beilein, right now Michigan's offense boils down to "do something, Darius."
Fortunately for Michigan, Darius Morris has proven pretty good at not only that but twisting down the lane and getting awkward shots to fall. He was somehow 5 of 8 from inside the arc despite his teammates assisting on zero of his buckets; most of those were Dion Harris-style "well, someone has to put it up" buckets while swarmed in the lane. Combine that with near 50% three-point shooting and a you've got the recipe for an upset.
You don't have something sustainable to go back to the rest of the season.
Michigan's going to get better the rest of the way, but it might be hard to tell because of noise. They'll probably even get better more quickly than more experienced teams. IE, all teams. They still won't be very good. That's okay. Beating Michigan State at Breslin hasn't happened since I was a freshman in college—JESUS—and while it's very Sparty to say they can pack it in the rest of the year and there will still be some satisfaction from the season, it's also true. As a self-contained thing it is the best of all basketball things.
In the larger picture it's just one of those games when Colton Christian hits an 18-footer as the shot clock expires. They happen. Where this game gives hope is for the offseason, when Zack Novak will call for a captain's practice and the his teammates will remember he was the man who sprayed gore all over the Breslin Center and showed Michigan State it was theirs.
*[He also mentioned that he used to throw "Office" quotes back and forth with Douglass.]
Non-bullets and whatnot
Not a vintage MSU team. At some point in early in the game a goofy white guy did something bad and I was about to kick something when I realized he was playing for Michigan State. Late in the first half I was wondering why the goofy white guy never came off the floor when the announcers mentioned his name, which was a different name, and I looked at their numbers and they were different too and it dawned on me that there were two goofy white guys who only did bad things splitting 40 minutes of playing time. One of them was an elf who bakes cookies.
It was at this point hope dawned.
Novak and Stu as reasons for Beilein hope. They're obviously better than Smotrycz on a possession-to-possession "oh God, what was that?" level, and I'd throw in Hardaway and his addiction to chucking up not-very-good shots in there too. Novak and Douglass were just as shaky as freshmen. Douglass had the same disease Hardaway does. Now they have the best eFG% on the team excepting easy-bucket machine Jordan Morgan. Douglass was a conscience free gunner his first couple years; now his usage rate is in the "limited roles" category and his three point percentage is a point short of 40%.
If Hardaway and Smotrycz can advance at the same pace they can be those guys plus three inches each. I'm relatively serene about Beilein's bulletproof status because his recruiting's improved tremendously, the team would be a lot different if Robin Benzing and Ben Cronin hadn't flamed out, and it's at least worth checking out what will happen next year when experience goes from almost dead last nationally (337 of 345) to approximately middle-of-the pack. If you add a year of experience to everyone they'd be in a huge multi-way tie for 126th, but that's generous because Michigan will play Burke and Brundidge.
Beilein's already earned next year, and when they take the inevitable step forward in '11-'12 he'll get year six, and that's got at least a decent chance of working out.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., please report to the lost and found. We have found your conscience. Please re-insert it and stop leading the team in three-pointers attempted despite only hitting 30% of them. He's got a higher percentage of shots while he's on the floor than Morris does, which is kind of amazing. Michigan would be better if he got that usage down to around 20%. I'm sure, like Stu, that he'll learn.
The strange thing about Smotrycz. Does anyone else think his best defense is played in the post? This isn't really a compliment—he's probably the worst defensive player on the team, constantly getting lost. But when Michigan goes tiny they have him defend the five and I can't remember thinking "this has to stop" during any of those long stretches.
Seriously. Someone at The Only Colors complained about my characterization of the streak guys as "meatheads." Seriously?
You can seriously look at those guys and envision them doing anything other than slather each other in AXE as they recite "Sex Panther" quotes back and forth to each other before heading out to a kegger where they are totally going to get laid, or at least slapped?
This has something to do with the juggalos post in the aftermath of the football game this fall, but here I was just making an observation about five guys with spotlessly hair-free chests whooping like monkeys. Michigan has meatheads enrolled. I met plenty. It was not a shot at anyone except the jinx-bringers.
Also, seriously: juggalos in Ann Arbor last fall. Seriously. Never been that bad, even when OSU fans were 30k strong for the 2009 Game. This is because the OSU fans who showed up were the kind that went to the game instead of just hanging out for an opportunity to take out their insecurities. Dozens of Michigan fans have told me this, a good chunk before the post even went up.
Due to hockey and my mom's lack of HD Net I've only been able to catch a couple of the basketball team's blowouts over really terrible nonconference opposition. Yesterday was my first opportunity to see them play a team with a pulse. I've been told the UTEP game was an all-around crapfest that should temper any enthusiasm from a road win against a program that returned most of a 21-10 ACC team that got a seven-seed in the NCAA tourney.
With that in mind…
Holy crap, we're… big? The turnaround in overall team size resulting from moving Zack Novak from power forward to one of the two pretty-much-indistinguishable guard spots that aren't point guard now means Michigan runs out a lineup that can seem bigger than opponents even if Tim Hardaway, Jr., is nowhere near the 6'7" the announcers bizarrely kept insisting he was.
6'3" Stu Douglass is the shortest guy to see any playing time and the PF spot is split between a couple freshman who will have approximately PF size once they are not freshmen. The point guard is huge, and everyone else is average or a little above average. Last year Kenpom had Michigan 239th in effective height, which must have been near the bottom when it comes to power conference programs; this year Michigan will improve that vastly.
Speaking of Zack Novak moving away from the four…
The inner life of Zack Novak.
With apologies to The Run of Play.
This just looks like a basketball team. By this I mean it doesn't look like a three-ball-gunning, shot-clock-draining, 1-3-1-playing collection of misfit toys with itchy trigger fingers. Morris clearly loves to go to the hoop and has a green light to do so; he's not going to put up many threes. With Morgan terrified to put up anything outside the lane, the only misfit toy types are Smotrycz and McLimans. The former plays a position that does see its fair share of three pointers launched these days; the latter is getting about ten minutes a game.
Morgan = Graham Brown. Morgan's not yet at the level where he's a rebound-vacuuming moose that sets screens so lethal you need a background check before you can run one—remember when Brown turned Wisconsin's Guy Who Looks Like Chris Rock Guy into a fruit rollup?—but he is way ahead of Brown at the same stage in their careers. Yesterday's game showed Morgan's assets:
- Excellent hands that minimize Courtney Sims-style layup-to-turnover whoopsies.
- Excellent post defense. He was active denying the post and when Clemson got it on the block their bigs almost invariably put up contested shots falling away from the basket. Morgan specialized in those bumps that don't get called fouls. It was like watching a Wisconsin center play on your team.
- An iron-clad knowledge of his role. He doesn't care if there are five seconds left on the shot clock, he is not shooting a 17-footer.
That last one may not be an asset in that situation but he's a guy who knows his strengths and weaknesses and plays to them. He doesn't seem like a redshirt freshman. Yet, anyway.
Morris = Mini-Denard. As in "this is a ridiculous amount of improvement." Morris is now getting those shots that are tough to get but not that hard to make when you get them—a runner in the lane from the first half stands out, as does Morris's Billups-like hesitation move for a short bank shot. He looked good against the early-season patsies, but this was my first opportunity to see him against real opposition and he didn't fall off much. He might have an issue against guards approximately his size, if he actually finds any.
Preseason the hype focused on Hardaway; six games in it seems likely Morris will be widely regarded as the team's best player by year's end. You can see it in the minutes: Morris averages nearly 34 a game. Novak is second at 29, Hardaway third with 26. (Foul trouble has something to do with that.)
Lingering bothersome bit. Small sample sizes and all but so far they still can't shoot threes, as they're clunking along at 29%. Hardaway has by far the most attempts and is hitting just 28%; hopefully that comes around given his reputation. If Vogrich doesn't pick it up (3 of 15 so far) he won't get even the limited playing time he's getting so far; ditto McLimans, who's started his career 0-10.
One highly encouraging sub-bit of this bit: Stu Douglass is 10-24 so far and has not been launching bad ones.
These men need ham. Smotrycz and McLimans especially—McLimans is listed at 240 the same way that Courtney Avery and Terrance Talbott are listed at 5'11". Teams with two guys who can bang in the post are going to crush the power forward spot.
Hardaway: maybe not quite yet. You can see where he's going and get excited about it, but it's probably going to take a year before he can approach the star player mantle placed on him in the offseason. He has a bit of Manny Harris disease, taking the ugly, lazy shots you can get away with in high school because you're a zillion times better than anyone else on the court. Harris never grew out of that—a major reason he was never an efficient scorer—but Hardaway should, especially since he's not going to have to take on the defacto point guard role Harris did last year. He should be getting the ball in positions to drive or pull up, not creating his own shot all the time.
Expectations: maybe up a tad? This is still an exceedingly young team that apparently threw up all over itself against UTEP and will have halves they spend throwing the ball off each other's faces, but that was an impressive performance against a team that should be legitimately good and you can maybe see an extra win or two down the road because of it. That might be enough to get them an NIT bid. That would be officially encouraging with zero seniors, zero early entry threats, and two highly-touted guards coming in next year.
Three games into the season, we're starting to get an idea of what this Michigan team will be like. Though competition hasn't been great the first three games have given fans a feel for the rotation and the strengths/weaknesses of individual players.
When John Beilein raved about his improvement in the summer, I was skeptical. With his shooting form, which hasn't seemed to change much from the awkward release we saw last year, it's tough to be confident unless the ball's going in the hoop.
I was wrong. Morris is a completely different player. His quickness is still there, but he's much more confident running the offense and distributing the ball (25 assists to 7 turnovers this year). He's currently shooting 69.2 eFG%, and has drilled both threes he's attempted.
The stats are markedly improved, but the eyeball test is the true sign of how much he's improved. He looks like a true leader, making great decisions with the ball. Morris has achieved the maximum reasonable improvement you can expect over the course of one offseason. If he can keep it up when the competition gets tougher - not guaranteed - he'll be the team's MVP.
Beilein on Morris: "Right now 'my assists' and 'my defense' are measuring how well I'm playing as opposed to how many points I have."
Morris: "I put a lot of work in this summer, and I didn't have the results that I wanted right away. It was a process, and I really feel comfortable now going into the season."
Novak: "He's really embracing his role. I mean, he's making great plays, but a lot of times, he's just making easy plays."
With Darius's emergence at the point guard, and Zack Novak moving into the backcourt, Stu's likely to see his playing time decrease. He's only averaged 19 minutes per game through the first three. He's been getting most of those minutes as Morris's backup, with a few at the 2 for Novak.
Douglass will be a bit better as a backup than he was as a starter last year, as he won't feel the pressure to force things. Against better competition, the team might need him more to give other guys a rest or fill in when foul trouble strikes. His shot selection has been reasonable so far, which is an area of huge improvement for him.
Beilein: "Zack has been a born leader since the day he walked on the court. I see Stu taking on the role much more, and he seems really comfortable with it."
Zack has shifted from the power forward position to a much more natural guard spot. Not having to defend against players half a foot taller than him has really helped his game. He's still making the gritty plays for which he's become a fan legend (the count for games in which he's been bloodied currently stands at one).
Beilein: "The things he does, I think the younger kids are saying, 'man!' And now we've got to get them to be able to do that."
Vogrich came in last year with a lot of physical development to do, and while he's further along at this point, he still has a ways to go. He's still very soft defensively.
In order to continue getting time on the court, he's going to have to hit his shots. He's been a streaky so far this year. He also has a weird knack for being in the right place at the right time to pull down rebounds, particularly on the defensive end of the court. We'll see if that lasts.
Despite his NBA pedigree, Hardaway wasn't a recruit that the scouts were drooling over. Three games into his freshman campaign, he's started to change their minds.
As we knew coming out of high school, he has a pure shooting stroke and can hit from anywhere on the floor. However, his athleticism and overall scoring ability - he can drive and finish, pull up and create his own shot, shoot off the screen, etc. - have been a revelation.
He's still rail-thin, and though he'll never be a big guy, he'll put on weight over the next couple years. He's also been prone to committing early fouls so far, which has limited his playing time. He's the team's best scorer, so that will hamper the offense if it continues.
Novak: "We just know he's a really great player and a special kid. It's just fun to watch him, and fun to play with him."
Hardaway: "I came in this season to do whatever it takes to get the win."
Where the scouts may have missed in evaluating Hardaway, they were spot-on for Christian. He's an athletic, slightly undersized power forward with a limited offensive game at this point. He's great on defense, and a good rebounder. In future seasons, he'll develop a mid-range game. This year most of his points will come on easy finishes underneath and putbacks.
Beilein: "He's willing to do whatever it takes to get on that court, and hustle is one of them."
Smotrycz has the refined offensive skill that Christian lacks at the 4 spot. After starting the year shakily, he's been shooting very well in the past couple games, and making the right decision to pass up the shot at times. He's got good size, which gives him most of his defensive ability. He doesn't show off much athleticism on that side of the ball - though there are flashes on offense.
Smotrycz: "I'm just trying to do all the little things. Play well on the defensive end, clean up the boards, and the offense comes."
Beilein: "He can shoot, and when you can really space the floor, that's what opens things up for Darius."
McLimans has struggled early in the year, missing easy finishes on offense and giving up too many shots on defense. Though he's the best shot-blocker on the team, he too often plays like he's afraid of being called for a foul. He's being platooned with Colton Christian, the stronger defender of the power forwards.
On offense, he's not a traditional post player, but has been stretching defenses out to the 3-point line. He needs to assert himself down low a bit more, as physical defense can really throw him off his game.
Though he's played by far the least out of the post players, Horford has shown some potential. He's athletic, and loves to get out on the break offensively. As we thought coming into the year, his lack of weight is going to be a hindrance.
I'm curious as to whether Beilein will try to phase Jon out of the rotation sometime soon, and maybe angle for a redshirt. Both the head coach and Bacari Alexander, who is in charge of the post players, rave about Horford's desire to learn. His long-term upside is great (as it should be with a pedigree like his), but that's not enough to get him double-digit minutes yet.
Beilein: "He's one of the most eager young men that I've ever worked with to improve his game."
Along with Morris and Hardaway, Jordan Morgan has been the third pleasant surprise on the team. Though he's only about 6-9, he's a true post player with moves down low. He can finish garbage and run the floor on the fast break.
He's a good-not-great rebounder and a good, strong defender, though he's not going to block a lot of shots. In the Bowling Green game, he was able to more than hold his own against a taller player in Cameron Black. Though Black isn't as skilled or experienced as some of the guys Jordan will see this year, at least facing a bigger guy hasn't been an issue yet.
Beilein: "When he's in there and he's really active, he can make a difference. Bacari's done a wonderful job with Jordan... Bacari Alexander has been a great influence on him, and he's really worked hard on all the other things we do."
Morgan: "The more I work with coach Alexander, on being physical and just finishing in the paint, the more fluid I feel."
The degree of difficulty is about to go up dramatically with Syracuse and either UTEP or Georgia Tech coming up this weekend. I'll preview all three teams Friday. Now I'll say all have been vulnerable at times this season, including losses to far inferior opponents for both the Miners and Yellow Jackets.
The Wolverines are expecting to emerge from the Legends Classic with a 1-1 record at best, and we'll know a lot more about the team coming out of the weekend. If they can pull an upset, expectations for the season may shift slightly to the good.
After the tough weekend, it's a roadtrip to Clemson for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, then a few slightly less rigorous non-conference games before Big Ten play.
Top photo courtesy UMHoops, all others from file by Paul Nelson for MGoBlog.
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.
August isn't usually a hot time for basketball news, but a trip to Europe is fast approaching, and there's a little bit of other news surrounding the Michigan program. For video of John Beilein's press conference, check out UMHoops, where Joe posted the entirety of it.
A few guys are banged up, but all three are expected to be healthy by the time the team leaves for Europe.
- Evan Smotrycz broke his toe (playing wiffle ball!) a week before reporting to Michigan. He's practicing, but is not cleared for full-court drills. Once he's healthy, he'll pick things up very quickly.
- Colton Christian has a pulled hamstring.
- Jordan Morgan has another week to go in his rehab from shoulder surgery in the winter.
John Beilein gave some of his early impressions on Michigan's newest players:
- Tim Hardaway Jr. is focused, and he's learning things quickly. All of the other guys also had good coaching, but it's obvious that he's been very well-coached. He's playing at 190 pounds (though he doesn't look it, and I'd be surprised if this was true). He has a good attitude and wants to improve.
- Jon Horford is long and athletic. He has a desire to learn and be coached.
- Colton Christian will bring a physical presence defensively.
...and shared a bit more about the improvement from some of the guys we already know about:
- Matt Vogrich has shot the ball more consistently so far. He'll get a chance to be either a 2-guard or wing forward.
- Darius Morris has improved his leadership. It's tough for a freshman to be a team leader, so he's moving forward in that respect. He's also been shooting the ball well, and it's clear he put in lots of time individually.
- Blake McLimans is up to 240 pounds, after playing at 200 in high school. He's been getting a lot of time at center because the other options there have been banged up.
- This year, they'll have more opportunities to play Novak at a spot that plays to his strengths. They needed to play him out of position most of last year because they didn't have the bodies.
From my personal observations:
Jordan Morgan might need to work on his finishing. John Beilein joked that, at five push-ups a miss, "you're going to lead the league in push-ups." Blake McLimans looks a lot bigger than he did last year. Evan Smotrycz (at right) looks good, despite the toe injury. He's much broader than I thought he'd be, and he has good athleticism and a nice shot. Michigan fans are really going to like his game.
Novak and Douglass appear to be the vocal leaders of the team. I didn't see a huge change in Darius Morris's shot. It's clear Bacari Alexander is new around here. Beilein had to show him some of the drills before they could instruct the players. Ben Cronin (now a student assistant) had to help him out a bit, too. Still, Bacari's as enthusiastic as his Twitter account would lead you to believe.
The trip overseas is something that teams can do once every four years. It's a good experience from a basketball standpoint, and also culturally (four of Michigan's players had to apply for their first passports). To prepare for the trip, they are allowed 10 days of practice. They're doing 2-a-days for all of them, and today was #4. They'll have next week off and then have five more before they leave.
Former Wolverine Travis Conlan, who played professionally in Belgium before joining Michigan's staff as an Administrative Specialist, helped the team set up their games in Belgium.
The team will have to adjust to playing with a 24-second clock on the trip. They'll probably commit a lot of shot clock violations, Beilein admitted, but it will help them play at a faster tempo when they return.
Michigan's opponent for the semifinals of the Legends Classic on November 26th will be Syracuse. Georgia Tech and UTEP are in the other semi-final. The final pits the winner of the two games against each other at 8PM on Saturday the 27th, and the consolation game will be played at 5:30 - potentially during the Michigan-Ohio State football game.
Photos from Michigan basketball on Facebook.