I decided to upgrade this to a diary. Still not sure why I spent 45 min. typing this but I was thinking about it. Let me know your thoughts regarding next years starting lineup and anything else you feel compelled to comment on. Go Blue!
I was just thinking about how frustrating it was the past three nights watching the teams I was rooting for in the Big Ten lose in barn burners (Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois). I was also thinking of how frustrating it is to watch Michigan play. They show moments of greatness beating UCLA, Duke, Illinois, Purdue and sticking w/ a #1 ranked UConn team only to look like a terrible for long stretches against Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin (2x), Michigan State, O$U (2x). I do not understand Beilein's rotation as it has seemed to change drastically for some players from the first half of the season to the conference season. So these are my brief thoughts/frustrations of the role players on this team as we move towards the end of the season and look towards next season:
CJ Lee/David Merritt: I love the story of these two guys earning a scholarship and both of them currently attending Graduate School at U of M but in reality I look forward to having more D-1 scholarship type players on the team w/ their departure. I feel like there is room for one on the team b/c it is a great story and really speaks to what college athletics should be about.
On the court I do think anyone hustles as much as CJ Lee. I love seeing him hit the occasional 3-pointer and grabbing a monster rebound against guys taller than him. He is scrappy, a great leader and always plays hard. I can't help but get nervous when he is running the game in pressure situations but that is mostly b/c I watched him turn the ball over twice in the waning moments of regulation against NW. David Merritt seems to be very sound w/ controlling the ball and has solid defense. He seems to be a bit less of a scoring threat than Lee but is a nice surprise every once in awhile on the offensive end.
Jevohn Shepherd: I loved seeing this guy play early this season. He seemed to have settled into some sort of role finally coming off of the bench just to have that role disappear come Big Ten season. If it were up to me, Shepherd would always play before Gibson. I love his athletic ability. He seems comfortable handling the ball on the perimeter and seems to love to try to take it to the hole when he gets a slower big guy out on him. His athletic ability seems to make up some of the height disparity between Gibson and him but I think his inside outside threat makes him more valuable, but again what do I know I was cut from my Varsity team.
Zack Gibson: Jevohn Shepherd is a great transition to Gibson b/c this guy frustrates me to no end. I spent the first half of the season defending him to my gf but now he just bugs me. He finally got a haircut so he doesn't look so stupid out there but he is still our token tall white goon except he is not as good as our ones from the past (Graham Brown, Chris Young). He does not seem comfortable at all handling the ball unless he is 5 ft. from the hoop. But even then he is not sure if he is going to dunk it, lay it in or go for a reverse layup (he did this against Wisconsin when he had an easy layup, but he made it). I do not know what he does in practice but I'm not sure his occasional free throw or layup make up for his moving screens or turnovers. I guess he gives us the much needed height but I hope to God that Ben Cronin can help relegate Gibson to the bench next year.
DeShawn Sims: I can't say enough about this guy and what he does for our team. He is not flashy or demanding of attention but lets his playing speak for itself and that is probably what I love most about him (except his missed 3-pointer at the end of the Wisconsin game). I think every game we need to try to work the ball to him first. He is like Basketball's equivalent of having a running game. You run to open up the pass. We need to go down low to Sims to open up our 3-point game. Right now we seem to do one or the other and only see glimpses of both but next year I think we will be wildly successful if we can do this consistently. Sims plays like he is a few inches taller than he really is. I wish Amaker would have played him more as a freshman but maybe that slowed his development enough where he will stay for his senior year and really become the heart and soul of this team.
Manny Harris: No doubt he is a great talent and is why we are any good at all this year. I think if he goes pro it is a big mistake on his part. I think at least another year will help round his game out and hopefully put some meat on his skinny frame. I do not know if it is something that Manny does when going to the hole but it kills me he rarely gets calls when he goes to the hoop. I think this is the best part of his game and the refs don't help him out and actually give him one or two charges a game. This seems to get to him and he sometimes falls victim to the game getting to his head and throwing him off. On the offensive end he has such an off-balanced looking 3-point shot it is hard to say he is great from there but he hits enough to where it is safe to say he is pretty good. He doesn't look like a Glen Rice or a Louis Bullock but they go in. I wish he could develop that 10-20 ft. range where if he can't drive all the way to the hole he can pull up and make you pay. So I think Manny needs at least another year to refine his game and get us back to the tourney.
Kelvin Grady: He has definitely fallen out of the rotation. Not sure why or how I feel about it. I feel as good w/ him handling the ball as I do w/ Lee or Merritt but I think he is still searching for an identity. His quickness is one of his strongest attributes and works out well in the 1-3-1 zone defenses. Sometimes he finds his range from downtown but that is a bit less consistent than I would like. I think he needs to work on shooting consistency and will always be a role player for us.
Anthony Wright: Not too sure what to make of Wright. He is victim to the strange rotations under Beilein and has hardly been heard from all season until lately. Last year he had a few games (I think OSU) where he rained threes but that hasn't seemed to grow or move forward in any particular way. I like him on the roster in case we run into injury issues like a few years back or to just have someone to come off the bench and add a spark.
Laval Lucas-Perry: I think we were all excited about this guy and he turned in some good games early but his shot seemed to lose him for awhile. I love that he has freshman eligibility and I think we all forget that and were expecting him to come in and be great. That hasn't happened but you can see that he has great potential. I think he has the physical attributes to be very good. He seems strong and comfortable in his body. I have heard he is automatic from 3-point land in practice but he somehow needs to translate that into the game which I think he will. What bothers me most about Laval is when he drives to the hoop he does not seem to know what he is going to do w/ it. He is quick and very good at getting the step on the defenders but does not know if his #1 goal is go to the rim or kick out. It usually ends up w/ a strong miss off the glass when he had the shot and didn't expect to be so open. I think if he finds his shot and becomes comfortable in games shooting it and also learns to drive to the rim and expect to score he will grow into the player we expect him to be.
Stu Douglass/Zack Novak: They are a bit interchangeable in my mind. Novak seems to be more of the scorer but only b/c he takes more shots from 3-point land. Douglass seems to have the body to grow into an even more solid player defensively and offensively. They seem to be on track to be solid contributors and probably frequent starters for the next 3 years at Michigan. As Brian said, they will be the kind of players that would be great players at Butler or some other good mid-major.
Eric Puls: Last and probably least, Puls. I no nothing about this kid other than the mop up minutes he has gotten and even those have been scarce as we have rarely run opponents out of the gym. Probably a career on the bench if he can't get time while being 6'10" on a very undersized team.
We lose only Shepherd, Lee and Merritt so we are in good shape next year w/ a solid freshman class coming in. So it should be very much the same team. I think the Big Ten will be as good next year as most teams seem to have young talent on them. So hopefully our young guys have more of an upside (mostly Cronin) than an OSU who is also returning most everyone. I would think the starting lineup next year would be something like: C Cronin, F Sims, F Harris, G Lucas-Perry, and G Grady eventually being Darius Morris. Sprinkle in some starts for Novak and Douglass and hopefully it will be a great year.