While watching ESPN this morning in preparation of the tournament I've heard not one, not two, but THREE different analysts talk about how the hardest thing for Tennessee to deal with today will be Michigan's 1-3-1 zone defense. Hubert Davis, Jimmy Dykes, and Digger Phelps all ranted about this.
Meanwhile, anyone who has actually WATCHED Michigan this year knows that they almost NEVER play that defense. I would estimate they play it 5% of the time at most. It is amazing that the 4th place team in the best conference is so unknown to the "experts".
Defensive sets: Ive heard we could return to a lot of 1-3-1 in part because Manny wasn't disciplined enough to play it last year. This years teams has less talent but maybe more length so they could play it decently by staying disciplined in their zone and knowing scouting reports (trap bad ball handlers, pinch zones towards shooters). With the lack of a veteran shot creator on offense, we will need to get fast break and secondary break ( trailing 3's in transition) opportunities.
Developing Skill sets: It's no secret that many of Michigan's players are 1 dimensional offensively. Can Stu and Novak develop any sort of in between game? Last year opponents closed out hard and chased M's shooters off the 3pt line with impunity b/c they knew guys besides Manny couldn't finish off the dribble. Novak, in particular, was hesitant when he got into the teeth of the D and often just passed the ball out to a covered guy. These two aren't athletic/big enough to finish inside off shot-fake attacks so any sort of pull-up J/floater game would go a LONG way to increasing our offensive efficiency.
Toughness: I want Stu and Novak, when they get the chance, to throw their bodies into guys inside, shielding the ball and avoiding the shot block. Finishing in traffic without trying to draw contact in unwise given their limitations, but they can improve their ability to draw fouls.
Shooting: This one is obvious. The team will go nowhere without 33-35%+ 3 point shooting. Confidence seemed to be an issue last year and it became a team-wide psychological thing. Without Manny drawing defensive attention, 3-point looks will be less open and we will need to be able to convert with a hand in the face. Bob Knight always said that 'good shooting is the great eqaulizer and erases a lot of mistakes'.
Tim Hardaway/Darius Morris: Can they replicate some of what we lose with Harris. This team will struggle to generate looks late in the shot clock. Hopefully their jumpers are to the point that teams won't sag off them. I'm more worried about Morris in this regard. Last year teams left him wide open and clogged the paint ala how teams play Rondo in the pros. If Darius can keep them honest, his penetrating abilities become increasingly valuable. Darius' elite court vision is largely wasted in the half court with no passing lanes.
Rebounding: When going to zone, whether it be 2-3 or 1-3-1 our guys need to do a better job of turning and finding the closest man to block out. Block out responsibilities get mixed up a lot in zone and our guys need the mindset that the defensive possession isn't over until the rebound is secured.
Motion offense: We need to avoid the 'going through the motions' lackadaisical periods of offense. This means quick ball reversals, attention to detail in setting screens and tight curl action from our wings to actually make use of the screens. Beilein will put them in position to make plays depending on how soft the D is playing, but last year the team often ran the sets slowly, passed up shots and deferred to Harris and Sims. Minus those guys, execution is at a premium and our guys CANNOT pass up decent looks. This team needs to play up tempo. Beilein has stressed this in his quotes so far.
Breakout freshman: College basketball is a sport where teams can improve instantly through recruiting. If Smotrycz or more likely Hardaway flashes star potential this year it would be huge for recruiting in the future and for this years team. A dynamic presence (even a young one) on offense can get us out of a stagnant sets. A good NIT run and mid-pack Big Ten finish isn't out of the question with a Manny-like freshman year from Tim Hardaway Jr. Without any instant impact guy, Michigan with likely do about what they're expected to.
Overall, the team is young, largely unphysical, but has some talent. There will be frustrating turnovers and nights wheres balls don't bounce our way (both rebounds and shots). Most of all though, effort needs to be 100%. The team is young and some breakdwons can be tolerated, but not slackin' it out there. Above are some of the issues with our team that i've seen and what we can do to fix them (admittedly easier said than done).