Various Things On Basketball

Submitted by Brian on December 1st, 2010 at 11:33 AM

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.



December 1st, 2010 at 11:41 AM ^

Several of your comments made me laugh out loud.  Thank you.  I love seeing a team win games they shouldn't win and exceed expectations.  I have a feeling we will see quite a bit of it with this team.


December 1st, 2010 at 11:46 AM ^

I am with you Brian, so far this is the first game I have been able to watch also. I was pretty impressed with them last night, especially in the first half. They came out on fire and was able to get a rhythm going. Even during the second half when it seemed that Clemson was going to come back, Novak hit some nice threes in the corner to keep them at bay. I think this team will be pretty decent this year, as long as they play like that all season. They have a bright future, IMO.


December 1st, 2010 at 11:47 AM ^

I didn't see the UTEP game, but I did catch the Syracuse game. I am not sure if they really are a top ten team, but we outplayed them for major portions of that game and could have pulled the upset if a few things went our way. I am shocked but I think this team, as Deshawn Sims suggested, might be better than the team was last year because of chemistry.

I have upgraded my early expectations from 9 wins to the mid teens. I think this will be a team you can really enjoy rooting for.

His Dudeness

December 1st, 2010 at 11:55 AM ^

Agree. The Syracuse game was within reach and would have really been nice. This team won't dance, but if not for the Holy Shit strength of our conference this year they could be pretty close. I don't see us winning enough games due to Holy Shit strength of conference.

Side note: smallest team ever next season?

Bielfeldt's Calves

December 1st, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

We're going to have trouble with those types of teams. Last night when Clemson turned up the defensive pressure is when they made their run. With the youth of the team and lack of really good ball handlers (although the entire team is made up of decent ball handlers) we'll struggle for stretches like we did against UTEP.


December 1st, 2010 at 11:50 AM ^

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

I knew it.

He has been trying all this time to convince readers that he has a "fiancee" and "lives a normal life", but he's really just some guy living in his mom's basement.

And you know what? I think that's cool.


December 1st, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

Last night was an extremely encouraging sign for the future of this program.  We had three freshmen (Hardaway, Morgan, Smotrycz) produce 41 points and 16 boards, while turning the ball over a total of 4 times on the road against a pretty good ACC school.  Also, Morris' offensive game is completely night and day from last year.  He has a much improved mid-range game, and while he doesn't shoot many threes and probably never will, we need him to continue to distribute the ball to guys who can shoot the three.  I'm going to temper my hopes for this team, but last night was a lot of fun to watch


December 1st, 2010 at 11:56 AM ^

were to two teams who is likely to play in the NCAA tournament this season.  It's not bad plus the fact that they beat Clemson on the road in which they werent' supposed to win.  This is a rebuilding year but it's encouraging to see young players stepping up.  Michigan is the 3rd youngest team in the country and there will be inconsistencies plus some blowout losses against MSU, Purdue, OSU, Kansas.  They may spring an upset against a solid team.  Regardless, this isn't a year where the expectation for Michigan to go to NIT or NCAA this year. Next year, NIT should be the expectation with the chance to make it to the NCAA.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:02 PM ^

I am very optimistic about our young team.  One of the things that scare me is when Vogrich and McLimans are on the floor.  They seem to lack the necessary amount of grit to keep up with high level play.  Hopefully they can learn from Novak and turn into guys that will provide good support off the bench.

oriental andrew

December 1st, 2010 at 12:29 PM ^

Define "grit."  I see those guys (Vogrich, especially) hustling and trying really hard (maybe too hard).  I don't think it's a matter of grit more than a lack of confidence and sense of their roles on both O/D.  Whatever "grit" is, I don't think that's the problem.  Maybe I'll ask my cousin Vinny to define it for me.  I'm pretty sure he knows.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:34 PM ^

Yes they are hustling and playing hard, but Vogrich seems like a defensive liability when he is on the floor.  I think if he had the grit that Novak has maybe he might not seem like such a liability.  If he improves his defense then we can see him on the floor more and maybe get his shooting going. 


December 1st, 2010 at 11:59 AM ^

Team looked good last night and really would have won by more if Clemson didn't get some garbage points toward the end.  I was most impressed by the defense, since it held Clemson to about 40 points with a 6-7 minutes left in the game, and weathered a couple of small rallies by the Tigers.  This team might sniff an NIT bid if they keep this up, especially if they can spring the random upset against a team like PU or MSU.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:02 PM ^

Maybe this isn't how you meant it, but McLimans plays the 5, not the 4.  Colton Christian and Novak are the other guys that get time at the forward spot. 

McLimans is also killing the 3pt shooting percentage at an 0-10 clip.  If you take his attempts out (like the team should moving forward), then you get a more respectable 31.8% with both Hardaway and Novak's arrows pointing up and Vogrich either getting it together or getting the red light soon.  Novak will be better than the current 28% as he adjusts to his role, and Smots hitting 42.9% on 21 attempts through 6 games, which is very encouraging.  

I think the size of the team is really helping defend the 3 ball as well, as we're only giving up 24.4% three-point shooting percentage defense, which is a huge improvement over past Beilein teams at Michigan.

Hardaway has had some very efficient scoring games so far, and if "Not yet" is 15 points and 2 turnovers including some ice-cold assassin blood free throws his sixth game into his career, well, your expectations are too high my friend.   Yes, he's still figuring out his role, but I think the light will go on soon, much like Novak took a few games his freshman year to figure it out.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:06 PM ^

but don't hang it on a Clemson win.  Clemson will struggle mightily this year, as what a year ago was an athletic "40 minutes of hell" type pressure team tries to convert to a coach who likes "to teach", to call timeouts and discuss, to sit players to calm them down, etc...   They will not be back to last year's level for some time.

That said, it was great to see the improvement in Michigan.  I too think we will raise more than an eyebrow or two this year. 

I thought Morris showed flashes of greatness being around the corner.  He's not there yet with consistency - still has lazy plays occasionally, still pushes too much on his own at times, still gets shook by refs not giving him the benefit of every doubt.  When he can stay mentally sharp, he will be special.  He has the height to dominate almost any guard he will have trying to guard him.

I'm REALLY impressed by Morgan.  He is just always around the ball/rim, one of those "in the right spot all the time" guys.   Good call on his ability to "body up" defenders before they can get into shooting motions.  For 6'9" he will affect a lot bigger guys than he could trying to block everything up top.

One thing I think we need to improve is going to the rack harder.  Several guys seem to go to the rim a foot short, and prefer the "scoop" or " floater".  Saw several get rejected to start breaks the other way.  With the size our G's and perimeter F's have, we need to go hard and draw fouls - bonus if we get other bigs in trouble.  With all of the back-door cuts, and curls to the basket off screens up top, we must improve on this facet.  It forces the D perimeter to collapse in help, and opens the kick out lanes for 3s.

Good game overall, though I was more impressed with their composure during the run to start the second half, and down the stretch, than the W over this particular opponent.


December 2nd, 2010 at 9:39 AM ^

While I think guys like Vogrich are screwed when they take it to the hole because he isn't going to dunk the ball and refs aren't going to give him fouls unless its egregious, I think Morris has to try to dunk the ball more. There was one play where the lane opened and he drove to the hoop and tried a lay up which was rejected. He may not have tremendous leaping ability but at 6'4" I am sure he can dunk and he would have gotten fouled most likely if he attempts it.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:04 PM ^

The passing.  Oh sweet mother of God in heaven the passing.  It's way too early to go overboard on this stuff but I'm going to anyway.  This is a team that can pass the ball and make it be a thing of absolute beauty.  There were sequences in the first half that had me giggling like a kid with a bicycle-shaped piece of wrapping paper under the Christmas tree because my favorite thing ever in basketball is a series of sweet sweet passes that lead to a wide-open three.  I love watching this team pass the rock, they do it amazingly.  I love it.  When they get on that kind of a roll they're awfully hard to beat, I hope the consistency improves as they get older.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:09 PM ^

he picks his spots and plays under control for the most part, and that will get even better as he gets older.  i think an NIT bid is in the cards and that it would be a great accomplishment for this team. 

one other note - this team doesn't seem to have the factionalism that plagued last year's team a bit.

[edit] other additional note - it looks so far like the baccari alexander hire is working very well.  particularly with morgan.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:23 PM ^

I think you have to give some credit to LaVall Jordan as well, particularly in regard to Morris, given that Jordan is the one who is working with the guards. No offense to the previous assistants, but I really like the staff that Beilein has put together (including recently adding Travis Conlon and C.J. Lee).


December 1st, 2010 at 12:11 PM ^

part is how well the freshmen are playing.  Morris has a great feel for this offense so far this season and he is showing it early on.  Smotrycz has been great in the games I have seen (Clemson and BGSU)  They  got out early and dominated the first half.  The second half I kept waiting for Clemson to make it closer, but when they needed a basket they were able to get it.  If nothing else they are fun to watch and give us a lot of hope for the future. 

El Jeffe

December 1st, 2010 at 12:16 PM ^

So let me see if I have this right: we have an experienced and successful coach from West Virginia who brought with him a style quite different from the previous Michigan coach. He now is facing the task of molding a group of young players who will give 100% every night but sometimes make mistakes that make you wish it were one or two years from now. That team is headlined by an athletic player who made a big leap from freshman to sophomore year, is immensely likable and will become if is not already a great leader. It will also likely take care of the snacky cakes portion of the schedule, struggle against the elite teams, and maybe pick off a win or two here and there against the middle of the schedule.



December 1st, 2010 at 2:15 PM ^

You left out two things:

1.  That Beilein's second season was the basketball program's most successful in the past 12 years.  It would be like adding the 2006 football season to RR's Michigan résumé (in which case he, too, would be secure).

2.  While RR enjoys state-of-the-art facilities, Beilein's guys frequently have to slum it in the IM Building and Coliseum to practice.  The opening of the basketball practice facility in the fall of 2011 will finally begin to level the playing field vis-à-vis our Big Ten rivals.  Right now, our basketball facilities are worse than those of every other B10 school, except maybe Northwestern's.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:18 PM ^

I read somewhere (which, of course, I now cannot find) that Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City has one of the worst shooting backgrounds* of any of the Holiday Tournament locals (that weird hotel thing in Cancun was #1) and I think Michigan had trouble adapting to it from long-range.

*-Basketball is my least favorite of the four major sports, but I find the concept of "shooting background" asbolutely fascinating and I await the day when one of the obsessive study people can start quantifying how much shooting background can screw up a long range shooting team.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:18 PM ^

It's unfortunate that Brian missed the Legends Classic games, because it tempers my Morris = Denard enthusiasm just a bit. 

In those games he was, in fact, launching threes and other long jumpers, which we should all be able to agree is not his strength.  I presume Beilein talked to him about this because he was much more selective last night, but I'm a little concerned that the whole team has the green light from 3, given that McLimans and Horford continue to shoot 3s, and Hardaway forces his 3-pt attempts up even when he's not quite squared up and has a guy in his face.  Cut those shots out and we'd be a pretty decent 3-point shooting team.

In spite of some of his shots, Morris has undoubtedly improved greatly and I would agree is our best player (watch the pushing off bringing the ball up the court though, it's a nasty habit).  Hardaway and Smotrycz are great because if one is having an off night, the other tends to be there to pick up the slack.  And Morgan has immediately become my favorite player due to his basketball IQ*

*copyright: some guy at EPSN from the late 90s, but now property of Bilas


December 1st, 2010 at 1:10 PM ^

In regards to your warning about Morris pushing off, I actually think this is one of the most impressive parts of his improvement.  To my eye, I see him using smart contact and movements to shield the ball while he's bringing it up the court.  I don't believe what he's doing is going to get called, but all of these subtle things, paired with his size, give me a lot of confidence in his ability as a floor general going forward.


December 2nd, 2010 at 9:47 AM ^

Beilien's offensive system is predicated on all the players on the floor being able to shoot the three with consistency. His philosophy is to get long players who deny free throws and 3 pointers for the other team. Don't turn it over yourself and then trade 2 pointers for 3 pointers. If the other team is too aggressive on 3 point defense kill them with backdoor layups. You aren't going to see consistent post scoring from his teams because that just isn't the system. So if McLimans and Horford can't shoot the three, they won't get much playing time except to give Morgan a rest. (Not that Morgan can shoot the three either, he's just our best rebounder and inside defender)


December 1st, 2010 at 12:36 PM ^

Improvement, Progression, Increased Basketball IQ - all non-existent under previous Michigan coaches. I honestly believe Coach B is one of the best teachers in the game today. What they have done with Morgan in such a short time would have worked wonders with a player like Courtney Sims. There will be some rough nights, but it will be a lot of fun watching this team get better. With the addition of the practice facility and upgrades to Crisler, things are looking bright for hoops in Ann Arbor.


December 1st, 2010 at 12:43 PM ^

I love this quality.  He is doing his part and trusting his teammates to do theirs.  Many players get into trouble when they try to take on too much or try to do everyone else's job.  On a team full of quality shooters, he doesn't need to be one. 


December 1st, 2010 at 12:46 PM ^

I am so excited for this team and Beilen is a great guy. If we could've signed Pointer then we would have 3!!! top 100 recruits per ESPN.

Steve in PA

December 1st, 2010 at 1:09 PM ^

But, I'm still really excited about this team.  They're a young team that's going to be up-and-down all year, but I think NIT is a very real probability.  Would take some magic for an NCAA berth, but we're do for some breaks going our way.


December 1st, 2010 at 1:23 PM ^

This team has, so far, been a pleasant surprise (even given the low expectations).  The most pleasant of surprises has been the play of Jordan Morgan.  This is a guy that the coaching staff had relegated to the pile of "never going to make it".  Then, he fought back through a couple of nagging injuries and underwhelming practice to become a (somewhat) key part of the squad.  He might not want to shoot the rock, but his playing so far beyond expectations is excellent.  Very happy for him.


December 1st, 2010 at 5:43 PM ^

Wait...negs for a positive post about one of our bball players?  Oh well.  Next time I'll post a picture of a cat, a "haters gonna hate" image or ALL CAPS about RR turning water into wine.  Anyway, Jordan Morgan...I'm happy for you.  Keep doing your thing!