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.