Laval Lost

Laval Lost

Submitted by Brian on July 1st, 2010 at 2:59 PM

laval-lucas-perry-wide

photo via Jason McMann

In isolation, Laval Lucas-Perry's exit from the basketball program is not a big deal. Last year his offensive rating and effective field goal percentages checked in lower than notable bricklayer Stu Douglass. For perspective, this is what Douglass managed in 2010:

Stu Douglass … had an eFG of 42.7 and an offensive rating of 93.9 with a 15% usage rate. If Stu Douglass was a team, he would be Southern, a 5-25 SWAC team with the same overall eFG%. And those guys have to average 20% usage.

Being less efficient on offense than a guy who is in turn less efficient than a 5-25 SWAC team is quite a trick, and not one that indicates fans are going to spend draft night two years hence punching the wall because you went in the lottery. As departures go, LLP's is more Kelvin Grady than Ekpe Udoh.

Unfortunately, that attempt to dismiss the impact of the departure overlooks one key item: this basketball team actually needed Kelvin Grady. I keep on this like a broken record, but the team's best three-point shooter in 2009 other than the departed CJ Lee was none other than Grady. Whatever deficiencies he had as a player probably wouldn't have kept him off the floor in a year when no one could dribble or find the backboard in three tries. Next year, the basketball program will need Lucas-Perry and won't have him. It would be nice if Michigan's program was the sort that could sustain the loss of a guy like LLP without blinking. It's not.

So LLP's exit does not come in isolation. It comes in the midst of this:

Last year’s off-season was the epitome of stability and optimism. I spent the summer blogging about which national reporter had Michigan in his preseason top 15 and how Michigan was hot on the heels on Casey Prather and Trey Zeigler. This summer is the polar opposite — the news continues to revolve around a mass exodus of bodies out of Ann Arbor. One early entry. Three assistant coaching departures. One dismissal. Just four returning players who have played in a collegiate game.

Add in the crippling transfer of a player already on campus that leaves one position shockingly bereft of experience and talent plus an early entry into a draft that has no interest in the entrant and the basketball program is acquiring a distinct whiff of whatever horrible thing has plagued the football team since Rich Rodriguez took the job. We went into 2009 hoping the football program would mirror the basketball program; we go into 2010 fearing the reverse. Beilein tossed Rodriguez a rope and started pulling him out of the quicksand only to find himself waist-deep in turnover, facing down an almost assuredly lost year spent trying to get a bunch of underclassmen to stop running into each other.

UMHoops calls the above an "ominous sign" and it's hard to disagree. Momentum may be a hugely overrated concept when it comes to individual games, but on a program level it's not. Michigan had an opportunity to establish itself an up-and-coming program last year only to totally blow it on and off the field. Now instead of enduring an understandable bump in the road as the last of the Amaker players give way to Beilein's recruits, the bump is the anomalous NCAA year that establishes nothing. It's a dead cat bounce. Now we've got as much kick as Penn State does over the last decade. Hoorah.

I've previously said that I think Beilein's going to get a fifth year no matter what happens in 2010 and that year six probably requires no more than an upward trajectory from whatever filthy pile of used needles the team spends next offseason in. The dismissal of one role player doesn't change that, but it does add to the pile of foreboding tidings surrounding the team and how likely it ever is to get off the mat and become consistently decent. That was Beilein's promise: consistently decent or better.

If it's hard to see that happening at the moment, it's equally hard to see how a Michigan administration is going to find anyone more likely to pull that off. They aren't going to hire a coach with the tiniest hint of skeeze. Trying to be a basketball power without skeeze when you're an hour an a half away from school with the country's best performance-to-skeeze ratio is almost impossible. And firing the head of the NCAA's basketball ethics committee a couple years after self-administering a stern talking-to for the first time in the history of your football program is going to be a bridge too far for the administration unless they have no other choice. Beilein will be handed every opportunity to get things moving in the right direction.

You can put together a scenario where Smotrycz is Pittsnogle II and Hardaway is a diamond in the rough and a roster pushing 6'6" average height is a tough nut to crack defensively and there's an NIT bid next year and an NCAA bid in 2011 and Brundidge comes in and is Rodney Stuckey and etc etc etc. You'd have to be a little daft to expect it, though. Michigan basketball looks to be stuck in this amazing limbo where there's little expectation of success for the next three years and little recourse despite that.

But have I mentioned Carl Hagelin?

Carl Hagelin of the Michigan Hockey Team plays against Western Michigan University at the Yost Ice Arena on Friday November 14th. Michigan lost the game 2-1. (SAID ALSALAH /Daily) 

Bork? Bork.

LLP Dismissed

LLP Dismissed

Submitted by Tim on June 30th, 2010 at 10:06 PM

llp.JPG

I guess this ends the wondering about whether Laval Lucas-Perry will be granted that 5th year of his scholarship for the 2011-2012 year. Press release:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beilein announced today (Wednesday, June 30) that redshirt-junior guard Laval Lucas-Perry (Flint, Mich./Flint Powers Catholic HS) has been dismissed from the program.

"The University of Michigan and our men's basketball program has established expectations essential to the success of all students and athletes," said Beilein. "These university and team standards have been clearly communicated to the team and Laval on numerous occasions through meetings, conferences and mentorship.

"Unfortunately, Laval has violated our team standards. Therefore, I have decided that he will no longer be a part of our basketball program. Given the fact that Laval is near the completion of his degree, he has been extended the offer to remain on scholarship for the 2010-11 academic year and graduate in May with our 2011 class."

After transferring from the University of Arizona midway through his freshman season, Lucas-Perry has played 58 games for U-M averaging 5.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assist per game.

/press release.

Standard "violation of team rules" dismissal, though he'll be allowed to remain in school. Your men's basketball roster for the upcoming season now is one guard shorter, meaning more time at the 2 for the likes of Zack Novak and/or Stu Douglass, and probably an increased role for Tim Hardaway Jr.

Escape

Escape

Submitted by Tim on February 17th, 2010 at 2:07 PM

simmyiowa.jpg

Michigan 80 Iowa 78 (OT), MIchigan 13-12 (6-7 Big Ten)

It wasn't pretty, but at this point in the season it would be improper to take any win for granted, right? If Michigan was in position to grab an NCAA tournament bid, this would have been a scary game. However, the Wolverines are closer to missing the NIT than they are to making the Big Dance. Let's just enjoy the win.

After steady improvement throughout the month of January and the beginning of February, it's clear that Michigan's defense is not at a level that will win basketball games when the offense isn't working right. Like Wisconsin and Northwestern before them, the Hawkeyes shot the ball well, finishing with a 55 eFG%. Had Michigan not matched that number in one of their better shooting performances of the year, this game could have gotten ugly. Michigan opened up a 10-point lead late in the first half, but let Iowa claw back to tie it up by the break. Play was much more back-and-forth in the second half, but Iowa led by five with only 22 seconds to go, before Michigan managed to force overtime.

There were some bright points. On top of the newly-found shooting competence, this team actually showed some heart for the first time in quite a while, gutting out a win when it looked like all hope was lost. If they'd been able to do that a couple more times this year, maybe we'd be talking NCAA Tournament fringe instead of NIT fringe. A number of players stepped up that one probably wouldn't expect (primarily Laval Lucas-Perry), and seven whole players got double-digit minutes!

BULLETS

  • Rough game for Manny Harris despite decent numbers on the scoresheet. He had six turnovers, and nearly fouled out. A couple of his fouls were borderline calls, but they were also plays he should be smart enough not to make. He shot just 7 of 17.
  • DeShawn Sims, as we've come to expect, was this team's leader. He struggled making some layups through contact, otherwise he would have had a stellar outing. Very interesting for Beilein to (finally, in the eyes of some) play him with Gibson.
  • Darius Morris was super-quiet. Two assists, three missed shots, and two personal fouls isn't a statline that shows off how much he's improved over the course of the year. He still needs lots of work on his shot, but this game wasn't as big a step backwards as it might seem.
  • If we're criticizing LLP for being invisible most of the time, let's also give him props when he shows up to play. His 3/3 shooting from behind the arc to start the game got the offense moving, and though he didn't do a whole lot after that, he was the catalyst for Michigan's big run.
  • Man, the Big Ten Network presentation was awful. We constantly got shots of the lights or the back of someone's head instead of, you know, the game. We got about 10 seconds of ridiculously loud music, presumably off someone's iPod in the production truck (I kid). The commentary was often too quiet to hear, but it doesn't matter, because the announcers had no interest in talking about the game. The Big Ten Network doesn't have a great reputation to begin with, and it's painfully clear that they have no interest in correcting that.
  • [Editor's note: anyone else notice Jim Jackson's somewhat disturbing morph into Hubie Brown? I heard "blank is the best blank we have have in our league" a dozen times.
  • It's nice to see Stu Douglass and Zack Novak find something of a shooting stroke. Both only shot 3-pointers, but if they can continue shooting well, Michigan might be able to surprise a team at the end of the year, and get some confidence for the future.
  • Michigan still has a chance to go on a bit of a run here, with Ken Pomeroy favoring them to win three of the last five, including the next two. Dylan is hinting that Michigan is capable of sneaking into the tournament, but I wouldn't get so far ahead of ourselves quite yet.
  • Getting back to the officiating for a second, I think Oops Pow Surprise said it best:

    We're not stupid enough to think that Hightower and Valentine were somehow actively conspiring against Iowa; not only is Michigan plainly unworthy of a conspiratorial effort (see: not a tournament team), but that theory would require the supposition that the two men are actually capable of calling a good game and just choose not to. That's a fantasy.

    Further, it's not the case that all the calls went against Iowa for the balance of the game. There were several calls that seemed to be a whistle just blown at random, and a good amount of them were in Iowa's favor. This is what happens in a Hightower/Valentine game.

    Bad officiating is frustrating for all, even when it's not heavily slanted in one direction or another

  • [Editor's note: UMHoops pointed this out about the refereeing: DeShawn Sims says he complained to the refs about his game-tying three and the ref said he would have called a foul if he had missed, which just goes to show that every conspiracy theory you've ever had about basketball refereeing is true. Bastards.]

  • Did Anthony Wright get in a bar fight or something? Beilein:

    “The facts are, over the last day, I believe that Anthony had done nothing wrong to what the facts that were presented to me,” Beilein said. “If the facts change, then I will make appropriate action. But the facts are the facts that we discussed.”

    People, don't punch Ant Wright please.

Up Next

The Nittany Lions of Penn State travel to Crisler Arena Saturday, looking to win their first game in the Big Ten this year(!). This is a good opportunity for the Wolverines to get a win against a pretty bad team, and it's also a football junior day (about which more in Wednesday Recruitin'), so let's get this team some fan support to close out the year.

Your Love Is Like A Tidal Wave

Your Love Is Like A Tidal Wave

Submitted by Brian on January 27th, 2010 at 1:44 PM

1/26/2010 – Michigan 56, Michigan State 57 – 10-10, 3-5 Big Ten

zack-novak-lucas

Compelled to chip in on that occurrence. Thunder not meant to spoil. Zack Novak versus Kalin Lucas mandatory representation of last night's game.

I spent like 20 minutes looking for this because South Park Studios doesn't let you start clips at arbitrary points. But it was worth it. I present last night:

 

It's not like a win would have done much except make it more likely Michigan gets to .500 and therefore snags an NIT bid, but the basketball program fell into the state where Beat Rival is your season long ago. It would have been some vague redemption for this cursed year. It wasn't, obviously, because that's just the way 09-10 works. When it's all over I'll burn something in commemoration. Possibly the world.

Anyway, items:

Warn't a foul. Or rather it probably was but it was never going to to get called. (See Tim's post for the image getting passed around.) Sims pushed off to get open and fouled the State player about as much as he got fouled anyway. Still almost went down.

1-3-1… bzzt. When Beilein went into the 1-3-1 on the last possession I thought that was a mistake. The 1-3-1 is an extremely high pressure defense that offers up a lot of easy two-point looks. You're up one and playing a team that doesn't have a lot of shooters or take a lot of threes. If you're going to go into a zone it should be a post-packing one that tends to allow open looks from three, like the 2-3 Michigan has played infrequently. Also, the last time Michigan went to the 1-3-1 MSU sliced it open for a layup and a foul.

MSU didn't get a great shot but it was an open one from reasonable distance.

Start carrying razors. It's too bad that Laval Lucas-Perry doesn't have enough grit to bleed like a hemophiliac after getting elbowed in the nose, because other than the pool of blood that foul he took was a carbon copy of the one that got Manny Harris ejected last year. It would have been equally outrageous if Kalin Lucas had gotten the boot, of course, but shouldn't it have at least been a flagrant? You can give someone a flagrant without ejecting them and that elbow was face level. LLP did not have his face in the Kramer position where he just begs you to turn his cartilage into soup.

Paging the ghost of Gavin Groninger. It is ugly when you bring in a guy who can do exactly one thing and that guy can't do the thing. This is Stu Douglass, who's got an eFG% of 43.9 with a 15.6 usage rate. He's making 34% of his twos and 31% of his threes. I still think he's the best passer on the team and would be useful if he could hit the broad side of a barn with a nuclear bomb. It doesn't look like he can. Maybe he's just not getting many good looks? Last year he was only 33% from three, though. There's a lot of evidence that he's just not the shooter he needs to be.

Novak's kind of in the same boat—his 3PT% is an ugly 29%—but brings more Eckstein with him. Thanks to his relatively frequent rebounds his 2PT% is a healthy 54%.

Roster management. It's not Beilein's fault that Robin Benzing got stuck in Germany one year before the NCAA passed legislation to make kids like him—amateurs who have played on pro teams—eligible or that Ben Cronin's hip imploded, but not getting a big with any ability to play this year is a major failing. If Jordan Morgan could play at all yet he would be out there, missed practice time from his injury or not. Same with Blake McLimans. Beilein has a lot of guys who develop over the course of their careers; the team really needed someone to contribute right away.

Also, I know Kelvin Grady was not very good defensively, but he did make 36% of his threes last year—second on the team to CJ Lee—and would be useful. Were extreme amounts of pine that influenced him to take up football necessary? Would Grady have stayed if Beilein suggested he stick with it?

Manny. It's annoying but it's accurate to append the "…being Manny," isn't it? He's indisputably the best player on the team. Without him the Purdue game was a writeoff. He scored sixteen points, led the team in assists, and had five steals.

But holy crap: he's a 28% three-point shooter this year. Last year he was a 32% shooter. So why is he taking three contested three-pointers on which he does nothing except hold the ball and jack it up? He did the same thing at the end of the Alabama game this year, too. He just jacks up shots he has no business taking. It's one thing if he gets an open look—he was one of two on those—but to just hold the ball and then launch a bad shot without even attempting to run the offense is supremely lazy. Michigan probably converts at least one of those possessions otherwise, which is slightly important in a one-point game. I find him really frustrating.

Kenpom oddity. Michigan is now 58th in the Kenpom rankings, hardly off their pace from last year when they were 50th.

How this? Well, Kenpom also has a "luck" measure, which is basically the difference between your record and what Kenpom would expect your record to be given your performance. This year Michigan is 337th of 347 in this metric. Last year they were 131st, which is slightly above average. Related UMHoops tweet:

If my calculations are correct. Michigan is 2-6 in games that are within 4 pts in the final 2 minutes.

One more way in which this year is like having tiny gremlins stretch your scrotum across two counties.

Unverified Voracity Likes This Chart

Unverified Voracity Likes This Chart

Submitted by Brian on January 26th, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Okay, he's enrolled. Now strike! Devin Gardner finally managing his early enrollment has spurred not one but two columns echoing a theme from this blog. It's "please God, no more freshman quarterbacks." Angelique Chengelis:

So former Inkster star Devin Gardner has enrolled at Michigan, and the potentially next great quarterback will participate in spring practice and compete for the starting job this fall.

Operative word: Compete.

And the Daily's Andy Reid:

So, Devin Gardner is officially on campus — but be careful what you wish for, Wolverine fans. He’s not the answer for next season.

I agree with both takes, as is obvious anyone who's been reading this site's annoyingly persistent demand to redshirt Gardner if at all possible. I've read a couple other evaluations of Gardner's recent play that jive with what I though I saw in the later editions of the MGoCreeperVan's Gardner highlight videos: his throwing motion degraded over the course of the year from the very pro-style delivery I saw in Inkster's opener against Pioneer to the shotput pushing motion that was more prevalent in the state championship game. I don't think Gardner got a lot of dedicated QB coaching at Inkster and will probably need a year of constant correction to get his mechanics back to the point they were at when he was the #1 QB in the country to Rivals.

Is it really not that bad? I basically share the same opinion most people seem to have about this Michigan class: it's short on blue chips and—on paper—the worst recruiting class since Kelly Baraka and Reggie Benton were the highlights of the lame 2001 group. In terms of production on the field, Lloyd Carr's last two classes are probably worse for reasons that aren't anyone's fault, but at least when those kids were in high school people thought they were pretty good.

But actually it might not be that big a deal. This was created by a Rivals poster elegantly named "Stinky P1nky" on the 21st. [Update: FWIW, the poster in question first put this chart on The Mainboard.] It is thus a tiny bit dated but the changes since then are small and the resulting chart is an interesting one:

consensus-recruiting-rankings

Michigan's class is #11 nationally if you average out the four major services that do these things, though I'm not that familiar with MaxPreps's rankings. (They're probably a little better than that now since the Black commit temporarily bumped them a spot on Scout and Rivals, but then again they'll probably fall by signing day as they're almost full and other teams have more room to add players.) Notre Dame is just behind M and probably dropped after losing a couple of high profile recruits, one of whom is a four-star defensive end from Indiana who goes to a Catholic high school. Harbaugh can recruit a little bit.

This doesn't take class sizes into account very well and thus probably overstates the class quality, but at the very least it's a lot of solid players who will help Michigan solidify the roster, banish walk-ons to the scout team, and put them on a talent footing at or above the Wisconsin-Iowa range in which it's obviously possible to have an excellent team. If and when Michigan gets back there and the maelstrom of negativity surrounding Rodriguez subsides, a recruiting bounce would have them back at their traditional level. And last year's class, the first that Rodriguez was wholly responsible for, certainly indicates that is where Rodriguez would like to go.

The fudge factor. Now to throw some cold water on the above positivity with a seemingly unrelated Notre Dame commitment. A relatively anonymous TE/OT from Kentucky named Tate Nichols is committed to Stanford, but then backs off and switches to Notre Dame. His rankings then:

Two of the three main recruiting sites considered Nichols a tight end recruit and as such didn't slot him very high. Both Scout and Rivals tabbed Nichols as a 2-star tight end recruit with Scout considering him the 52nd overall TE. ESPN did list him as an offensive lineman, giving him 3-stars, a 75 grade rating, and a ranking as the 101st overall offensive tackle recruit.

His rankings now:

Update: These were his rankings on Saturday when he committed. Today, Tuesday morning, Scout has changed him to a 3-star offensive line prospect and the #71 overall OT recruit.

Would this have happened if Nichols switched his commitment to Kentucky? I seriously doubt it. But when it's Notre Dame or Michigan picking up a who-dat type recruit that guy tends to grab stars almost instantly. This year Michigan saw it with Carvin Johnson, Jake Ryan, and, to a lesser extent since he's still two stars on Rivals, Ray Vinopal. All of those guys were unranked or two stars until their Michigan commit prompted a re-evaluation.

That's not to say that the guys who got bumps didn't deserve them, but it's obvious that committing to a primo school causes the sites to re-evaluate your game. San Diego State commits are not afforded this privilege.

Speaking of Jibreel Black. Useful: Touch the Banner has a scouting report in which Brandon Graham gets name-checked. Useless: remember these guys?

dingle-berry

Apparently part of the Rodriguez rebuild is getting a couple of defensive linemen whose names combine in a funny way when they're on the bench: Michigan has just recruited guys named "Black" and "Ash." They should go the whole nine yards and invite Ball State running back Brandon Kish to walk on and then have poker pro Tony Ma hang around on the sidelines.

Wait, so now you're mad your guy didn't get hit by an elbow? Via UMHoops on the twitter is this weird incident from the Purdue game:

Kramer was defending on the left wing in front of Michigan's bench when Laval Lucas-Perry swung his elbow high, forcing Kramer to bob out of the way.

Seconds later, Michigan called a timeout and Kramer walked toward Purdue's huddle motioning to his arm and patting his elbow. That was likely directed to the officials.

Apparently, Kramer also told coach Matt Painter. Painter -- spouting mad -- then appeared to go toward Michigan's bench. He was held back by official Steve Olson, who had his hand on Painter's chest. Painter appeared to be jawing at Michigan assistant coach John Mahoney. Mahoney came over to Painter and appeared to pat him on the back and then walk away.

And by "incident" we mean "non-incident." Was this on TV? I don't recall this, though I admit that for a good chunk of the second half I was not paying super-close attention. I imagine a gritty gritadillo like Kramer spends a lot of time dodgy elbows that want to go where his craggy, pore-laden gritface happens to be. A little hissy from your coach about not actually getting hit is a little weird even if he got clocked last year. He's Gritopher Gritmer: he likes elbows in the face. Makes him feel alive.

Side note: Mahoney is the assistant who got T-ed up last year. He's yappy.

It's a matter of national security. The Detroit News reports back on their efforts to FOIA something from MSU about the Posse Roundup & Engineer/Woman Beatdown:

Most details of the altercation at the Rather Hall dormitory, however, were blacked out on the document. Officials cited sections of the FOIA law that protect an individual from unwarranted invasion of privacy and legal proceedings in an ongoing criminal investigation as reasons why most of the information was withheld.

Officials also declined to reveal details of six 911 calls made around the time of the incident, video surveillance footage in the dormitory, results of polygraph tests and taped interviews with players.

This is not surprising given the lengths to which universities go to avoid FOIA compliance, and I said earlier that the four additional departures from Michigan State's team seemed like a stiff price to pay. I do wonder if some of the big names returning to the team (Cunningham and Dell, mostly) might be the beneficiaries of a double standard that Michigan State would not like to see in the public eye.

Also: six 911 calls. !!!

Meanwhile, two more Spartans have been charged. They are DT Oren Wilson and perpetually troubled walk-on Myles White. White 1) was involved in the first PREWB, 2) just plead guilty to public urination, and 3) is now involved in PREWB II. Surely this must be the end for him. He's a walk-on. I track because I fret: Myles White is incoming Michigan tailback Austin White's brother.

Wilson started all last year as the NT, FWIW.

Small disaster apparently averted. Depending on what you believe, 2010 hockey recruit Jacob Fallon either got the boot or voluntarily left the NTDP, thus throwing his immediate future in flux and opening up a possibility he would play in the CHL. That is apparently not going to happen. Fallon has latched on with the Indiana Ice of the USHL and will presumably be in Ann Arbor next year unless Dean Lombardi drafts him and then kidnaps his mom.

Good work, Nike. This kind of stuff is why I'm glad Michigan got away from Nike:

new-msu-logoThat's a before-and-after of the Michigan State logo. New guy is pissed off because he looks dumb. Might go knock around some electrical engineers for variety.

Michigan State fans are not happy if a poll on The Only Colors is any indication. Opinion is currently 7-86(!!!) against. Required PREWB-related photoshop can be found at The Wolverine Blog.

Preview: Northern Michigan

Preview: Northern Michigan

Submitted by Tim on November 13th, 2009 at 3:01 PM

wisconsin-logoThe Essentials

WHAT Michigan v. Northern Michigan
WHERE Crisler Arena
WHEN 7:00 EST

November 13th, 2009
THE LINE No line, junkie
TELEVISION Big Ten Network

Michigan

Year 3 of the John Beilein era gets off to its official start Saturday at 7 as Michigan takes on the Wildcats of Northern Michigan in Crisler Arena. Though he's been a coach for over three decades, Beilein still feels butterflies heading into the year. "My gut feels the same... You're excited about it, and at the same time there's nervous energy."

If everything goes according to plan, the Wildcats will provide little competition. Instead, it should be an opportunity to get the kinks worked out, and a rotation established, before Houston Baptist comes to town next Friday—and hopefully even that is just a tune-up for the Old Spice Classic. The game against Northern will count as a win in the record books, but doesn't have an effect on Michigan's final RPI.

Manny Harris is still not 100%, though he's finally practicing in full with the team. Jordan Morgan has yet to hit the court with his teammates, though it should come soon. He and Blake McLimans will be kept on a redshirt track until the team absolutely needs them, in hopes that it never does.

A number of players are looking to improve their versatility. "I'm here to do what Coach Beilein needs me to do," says Laval Lucas-Perry, "I think I'm a little bit of both: point guard and a shooting guard." Darius Morris needs to learn when to simply go to the bucket, instead of setting up an offensive play (he also needs a winter coat). "As a point guard, you have to know when it's your opportunity to go out there and be a scorer... when you have to make that extra pass or go straight to the basket," Morris said. Stu Douglass is learning that sometimes it's OK to just trust his shot, even when running the point.

The rebounding and three-point defense continue to be issues, as they probably will be throughout the John Beilein era, though not to the extent they were last year. "The zone, at times, will give up a higher percentage than we'd like to, but it also creates turnovers," says Beilein. The team size will improve over last year, hopefully fixing some of those issues.

This team is still very much a work in progress. But isn't it fun to be able to enjoy the process?

Northern Michigan

As discussed in yesterday's non-conference roundup, Northern is, like, not very good. Against D-2 competition, they were below .500. They split the season series with Wayne State, a team that gave Michigan a comfortable victory in their exhibition last week. This is the Wildcats' first game of the season, in the largest arena they'll visit all year. They placed nobody on the pre-season all-conference squads.

Their players to watch are guards Marc Renelique and Raymont McElroy. They were atop last year's squad in scoring, and McElroy is the three-point shooter. The Northern Michigan roster from their website has some differences from ESPN's website, so take any personnel notes with a grain of salt. Hopefully, it shouldn't be too relevant for this game.

No tempo-free breakdown for this game, as it's the first game of the year against a D-2 opponent. We'll see about Houston Baptist getting the statistical preview, but it should make its permanent debut for the Old Spice Classic.

Elsewhere

UMHoops has a little more on the Wildcats and six questions going into the season, which makes Rothstein's five questions seem very sad and small and alone. AnnArbor.com has plenty of coverage; Morris and LLP are the point guards with Douglass a third option. Jay Bilas has gone from emotional problems to crazy Michigan homer. Also Dick Vitale said something I'm betting was annoying.

Teeth And Blood

Teeth And Blood

Submitted by Brian on January 5th, 2009 at 1:38 PM

1/4/2009 – Michigan 74, Illinois 64 – 11-3, 1-1 Big Ten

merritt-black-eye zack-novak-blood zack-gibson-smash

With a couple minutes left in Saturday's game against Illinois the Illini brought the ball up down four. Even with the students absent, Crisler fairly buzzed with nervous anticipation at a critical juncture. Michigan went to man; Laval Lucas-Perry moved up to take the point guard on as he crossed midcourt.

Lucas-Perry was afforded a moment in the window provided by Illinois setting a play, and used it to smile, big and toothy, before returning to the task at hand.

The thing that jumped out the most in the pre-game was basically the same thing: DeShawn Sims smiling wide before he was introduced as the starter, then settling down to business. After the shell-shock of last year, of the last ten years, it seems that Michigan players are periodically struck by the thought "hey… this is fun!"

Fans, too. When Zack Gibson saw a vacated lane late in the shot clock and beat Illinois' lumbering center off the dribble and threw it down, everyone roared and I looked around me to make sure there were 10,000 people who also saw that. And I saw people smiling, shocked and pleased and I just can't tell you what else because what in the hell is going on?

In the next timeout, Eric Puls came up behind Gibson and put a towel on his shoulders like he was a prizefighter. Gibson tried, with only moderate success, to look nonchalant about the whole thing.

-------------------------------------

So here we are, two games into the Big Ten season and 1-1. The Illinois game was critical. Start off 0-2 at home in a league where friendly confines matter way too much and it's a tough slog to get to the 9-9 that puts you on the bubble (unless Michigan upsets UConn, in which case 9-9 is a solid berth). It's still a tough slog, but one that looks doable.

The danger of Michigan's wildly divergent nonconference schedule, which had four tough games and then cupcake city, baby(!) was that the UCLA and Duke games were extreme outliers and the game-in, game-out performance of the team would just not be good enough to claw into the top half of the Big Ten. A couple games later, that chance is more remote. Not a whole lot more remote, but they're at least in the class of teams like Wisconsin and Illinois and should be clearly better than the Indiana/Iowa/Northwestern/Penn State collection of teams towards the bottom of the conference.

Not that they won't lose a game or maybe two to that set of four teams, but if they go 6-1 against those guys they need find only two more wins against the rest of the conference to get to .500, and 3 to get to what must be a tourney-clinching 10-8. Baby steps, always.

Bullets

  • The observations about teeth were made possible by the students' winter break; that allowed yrs truly to sit in the second row behind the Michigan bench.

    Unfortunately the ambient noise (WHO WANTS A FREE TEEEEEE SHIRT) of Crisler drowned out what Beilein was saying during commercial breaks and timeouts, but I did catch a couple things.

    One: about midway through the first half DeShawn Sims pulls down an offensive rebound and goes back up with it, getting hacked from behind; no call. Illinois takes the transition opportunity down and scores. There's a timeout on the floor and Sims goes to the ref, declaring what just happened to be "bullshit". Beilein yanks him immediately, and chews him out—sort of, he's not exactly Bob Knight—about this being the second consecutive game he's done that and Michigan can't afford for him to get a technical every time the refs blow a call. (Word to that, yo. Michigan would give up 20 technical free throws a game and finish with just Eric Puls on the court.)

    Two: every time Michigan would give up a bucket in the 1-3-1 in the first half, Beilein would explain to the bench what went wrong. "You've got to get up in that guy to prevent the skip," etc. etc. etc.

  • Sitting close to the bench gave me some insight into the value of Merritt and Lee: they were chatty organizers on defense whenever in the game and (in Lee's case, from the bench), shouting out instructions and generally attempting to make Michigan's array of switches work.
  • Speaking of which: it looked like Michigan's man to man has given up on the idea of fighting through screens and just switches all the time. Makes sense when you've got four guys basically the same size on the court, but it also leads to some awkward incidents where Kelvin Grady is under the basket checking a 6'6" guy. This ended poorly.
  • Manny alternated some rough possessions with his usual slithering to the bucket. His three-point shooting was pretty rough, and he's got to be a little more aware of when to kick out. Too many tough shots and turnovers so far.
  • The above-picture dunk wasn't Gibson's only thunderous finish of the day, but on his first dunk he overestimated his athleticism and nearly killed himself. Ball still went in.

    As long as we're on the subject: Gibson's always been shockingly good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim when the lane gets vacated. He's too slow to do it most of the time, as he'll pick up a charge if there's anyone to rotate, but, man, as soon as he put the ball on the floor I was like "this is going to be a gumpy white guy dunk."

  • Novak has won a lot of minutes, and deservedly, but what happened to Jevohn Shepherd? Shepherd was playing pretty well in the nonconference portion of the schedule and provides much-needed size and defense to Michigan's normally Lilliputian lineup. Surely he can pick up ten minutes spotting Harris and Novak?
  • Good to see LLP taking some guys off the dribble; hopefully as he gets more comfortable we'll see an increasingly diverse game from him.