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.