Posts Tagged ‘Manny Harris’

Jordan Morgan was there and tomorrow he gets the spotlight

Friday, March 7th, 2014


J-mo and team vs Minnesota(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

It seems like a century ago. A vastly underachieving Michigan squad watched its enormous upset bid against the top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes crumble as Evan Turner’s half-court heave found the net in the 2010 Big Ten tournament.

Michigan couldn’t bounce back from that devastating loss. Back then, Michigan basketball teams didn’t generally earn trips to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, after Turner’s 37-foot prayer sent the Wolverines home from the conference tournament, their 15-17 record left them without an invitation to even the NIT.

That season belonged to a different era of college basketball in Ann Arbor. It was before Michigan contended for Big Ten championships, Wooden Award winners and Final Four appearances.

But Jordan Morgan was there.

Morgan miraculously played in the shadow of four different generations of Michigan basketball. During his freshman season (in which he redshirted), Morgan watched the lackluster final edition of DeShawn Simms and Manny Harris from the bench. His actual playing days began alongside Darius Morris, whose ability to find Morgan wide open under the basket helped the young forward mature.

During the next two seasons, Morgan established himself as a consistent starter for the Wolverines, who earned back-to-back No. 4 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Still, players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. commanded the spotlight while Morgan quietly minded his business.

Jordan Morgan has seen it all throughout his five-year Michigan career (AnnArbor.com)

Jordan Morgan has seen it all throughout his five-year Michigan career and gets to go out a champion (AnnArbor.com)

Now his journey nears its end. In his final few weeks of college basketball, Morgan finds himself mentoring a brand new generation of Wolverines. Freshmen Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin continue to mature throughout the conference season. Meanwhile, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert stepped up and accepted larger roles in the absence of Burke and Hardaway.

And how many seniors do these young players learn from? Just Jordan Morgan, the only senior on John Beilein’s championship team.

The Detroit native’s career credentials speak for themselves. He has played on four straight NCAA Tournament teams, winning six of nine games so far. He won two Big Ten championships, including the school’s first outright title since 1986. Entering his final game in the Crisler Center, he’s compiled 103 wins during his college career.

Despite all of the program’s success, it wasn’t always easy for Morgan.

During his junior season, Morgan shared time with five-star super-recruit Mitch McGary, who chose to play for Michigan over many other high-profile schools, mainly Duke. Though Morgan welcomed the presence of such a talented player on the roster, McGary cut deeply into his minutes. After averaging 24-plus minutes per game in the previous two seasons, Morgan spent just as much time on the bench during the magical Final Four run, playing just under 16 minutes per game.

An average 22-year old player would protest losing over a third of his minutes after two productive seasons, but Morgan continued to play hard when Beilein called upon him. Now he reemerged as a consistent starter in 2013-14, doing Michigan’s dirty work by rebounding, taking charges, and playing tough inside defense.

The redshirt senior plays more minutes than he did last year, but for the fourth year in a row, his field goal attempts have decreased. Still, as he’s done his entire career, when opportunities come he takes advantage of them. He’s currently shooting a career high 67.4 percent from the field.

Morgan’s role in Michigan basketball history has been grossly understated. Former guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglas receive much of the credit for turning around the basketball program, but Morgan was the only player to step foot on the court during the National Championship game that survived a losing season as a Wolverine.

Morgan arrived in Ann Arbor to play in the dark, unfinished Crisler Arena for a team that struggled to make the NCAA Tournament every season. He leaves the Wolverines as perennial Big Ten contenders and defending champions.

He’s not only seen the construction of facilities that compete with college basketball’s finest, but also the commitment of two five-star recruits (McGary and Glenn Robinson III) to Michigan. The culture of this basketball program completely evolved over the past five years, and the only player to witness the entire process plays in Ann Arbor for the final time on Saturday.

You’ll never see Morgan’s jersey hanging in the rafters of the Crisler Center, but when the longtime Wolverine leaves the court for the final time on Saturday, he’s left an amazing legacy in his wake.

Morgan is the only Michigan player celebrating senior night on Saturday — a fitting end for a player that will finally own the spotlight.

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Northwestern

Saturday, January 4th, 2014


Big Ten season is upon us again, and Michigan got off on the right foot with an outstanding win Thursday night in Minneapolis considering the circumstances – no Mitch McGary, almost no Glenn Robinson III in the second half, a quality team in their own gym, a bad performance from Caris LeVert, etc.

Tomorrow, the Wolverines will look to take advantage of as easy of a three-game stretch as this conference season will have to offer when Northwestern comes to town (12pm on BTN) after a thrashing at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers in their own Big Ten opener. Here are my thoughts and my prediction for tomorrow afternoon’s matinee.

Keep Them Down: Despite Northwestern’s poor 7-7 start that has included losses to DePaul and Illinois State, the Wildcats do have some veteran talent that is capable of knocking off a quality opponent. Redshirt senior Drew Crawford, junior Dave Sobolewski, and junior JerShon Cobb have been around a long time and can all score in bunches, but the transition to new coach Chris Collins has clearly thrown the team into a loop of sorts.

The trio is still pouring in nearly 36 points per game, but their shooting has been dreadful, with respective marks of 42.2 percent, 40.2 percent, and 27.2 percent from the field. In Northwestern’s two most recent games, losses to Wisconsin and DePaul, Crawford, Sobolewski, and Cobb have combined to average just 23 points while making a putrid 27.3 percent (15-of-55) of their shots, and just 23.8 percent (5-of-21) of their threes.

Tomorrow, Michigan cannot simply assume that Northwestern’s cold streak will continue, however; the Wolverines need to make sure they close out on shooters and don’t let any of the Wildcats’ dangerous scorers get going early.

Drew Crawford has been at Northwestern since Michigan had DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris (NUSports.com)

Don’t Tire Out: With Glenn Robinson III going down early in the second half against Minnesota, Michigan is down to eight scholarship players, and while the injury did not look terribly serious, John Beilein gave no indication in his teleconference today as to whether or not Robinson III would be available for tomorrow’s game. If I had to guess, I think GRIII will sit out against the weaker opponent and continue to rehab while eyeing a return when Michigan travels to Nebraska on Thursday night, but anything could happen. Beilein would not comment on whether there was any swelling in Robinson’s ankle either and said he did not know if the injury could be a long-term issue.

Regardless of what happens, however, Michigan needs to make sure they stay fresh tomorrow. If Robinson plays, there should be no concerns, but without the starting wing, Beilein will only have eight scholarship players to rotate on the floor. The silver lining tomorrow will be in the fact that Collins has also shown a propensity for keeping a short bench, as Northwestern will only give seven or eight different players major playing time.

Where Art Though Caris?: Caris LeVert, hyped up earlier this season as perhaps one of the most improved players in the country, has been on a roller coaster ride of a season so far, posting very respectable averages of 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game, but struggling mightily in big games against Iowa State, Florida State, Stanford, and Minnesota. In those four games, Michigan has managed a 3-1 record while LeVert has scored just 15 points and recorded 10 turnovers.

Other times, like against Duke and Arizona, LeVert has been one of the best players on the floor, marvelously weaving his way through the lane, finishing tough shots over defenders, and getting other players open looks. Whatever the issue is, LeVert needs to identify it soon and attack it. With an already decimated roster, Michigan can ill afford one of their starters going incognito every other game.

Tomorrow, look for Beilein to draw up some nice looks for LeVert to get him some early confidence and pay attention to when LeVert is handling some point guard duties; if the sophomore from Columbus is dribbling the air out of the ball and continuously driving into and pulling out of no man’s land, Beilein will have a short leash, but if LeVert hits a couple first-half shots and puts up a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Michigan will be in good shape.

Prediction: At this early point in the conference season, Northwestern looks to be a bottom-dweller, but things can certainly change. If Glenn Robinson III can’t go tomorrow and Michigan is down two once-projected lottery picks, the Wildcats will probably be able to stick with the Wolverines longer than fans are expecting, but I still see Michigan pulling away in the second half against a team that has been shooting very poorly. I like the Maize and Blue, 71-55.

Michigan basketball season preview: the time is now

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012


Five years ago, the University of Michigan basketball program was going through some changes after a dark period in which the Wolverines failed to make an NCAA Tournament field for more than 10 years. Tommy Amaker did his best in six seasons leading the team, but he never seemed to get the program over the hump, only finding his team nationally-ranked twice, and never in the top 20. Michigan was simply irrelevant nationally and hardly competitive in their own conference.

As the 2006-07 season ended in yet another missed Tournament, Bill Martin had a big decision to make at the top. He could either retain Amaker and give him one last shot, considering the heralded recruiting class he had signed that season, or he could cut ties once and for all and start over with a new head coach.

Tommy Amaker could never turn the corner in Ann Arbor

Many, including I, wanted to see Amaker get that final audition; a class of Alex Legion, Manny Harris, and Kelvin Grady was one of the best Michigan had seen in years and figured to at least get Michigan out of the Big Dance funk, away from the NIT for good. Martin, however, in one of his final significant acts as the Athletic Director at Michigan, decided to move in another direction, hiring John Beilein away from West Virginia.

Like most major decisions having to do with sports, Beilein’s hiring was questioned by many, accepted by some, and heralded by few. He was seen as a coach that made the most of lesser talent, a guy that couldn’t recruit at the level necessary to compete on the national stage. The common wisdom was that his three-point-heavy offense was less intricate than it was fluky – sure, it would win some games when the team was hot, but it would never be consistent enough to win a conference title or to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Beilein’s Elite Eight run at West Virginia was seemingly shadowed by the fact that he failed to guide his Mountaineer team to the NCAA Tournament in his final season in Morgantown.

For the first year, Beilein’s critics were out in full force as Michigan stumbled its way to a 10-22 overall record, including an abysmal 5-13 mark in Big Ten games. The season included a more-than fair share of blowout losses, an embarrassing six-game losing streak in the middle of the conference season, and defeats at the hands of Central Michigan, Western Kentucky, and, worst of all, Harvard, who had just hired Amaker after he packed his bags and headed out of Ann Arbor. Beilein was able to convince Harris and Grady to stick with their commitments and don the Maize and Blue, but he was unable to retain Legion, the once five-star talent. The future did not look bright.

The following season, Beilein brought in his first recruiting class at Michigan, a class that may have been the lowest-ranked in the history of Michigan basketball. It featured 7’0” big man Ben Cronin, who ended up flaming out because of injuries, along with Stuart Douglass and Zack Novak, both no-names out of Indiana that were far from recruiting coups for Beilein. Douglass was reportedly considering Harvard before Michigan came calling, while Novak’s well-publicized story saw his Valparaiso offer pulled. His decision was likely to come down to walking onto the baseball team at Indiana and pleading to get a shot on the basketball court or suiting up at the Division II level somewhere, until once again Beilein saw something in him that no one else did.

Michigan got back into the Big Dance and laid the groundwork for today (photo by Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

Needless to say, there was not a lot of hype for the Wolverines going into Beilein’s second season. Manny Harris would return after leading the team in scoring his freshman season alongside fellow Detroiter DeShawn Sims, who was starting to emerge as another scorer on the team, but it was quite evident that Beilein still did not have the personnel that he needed to operate his system most effectively.

Then something funny happened. In a game that was hardly talked about at all beforehand, Michigan upset No. 4 UCLA at Madison Square Garden before losing to Duke the following night in the finals of the 2K Sports Classic. Perhaps Beilein truly did have something that no one else new about quite yet.

Just two weeks later, Michigan welcomed the Blue Devils to Crisler Arena and shocked them to the tune of an 81-73 upset, the second win for Beilein over the No. 4 team in the country in fewer than three weeks. The Wolverines experienced their fair share of bumps in the road the rest of the season, but when it was all said and done, Beilein had brought Michigan back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 seasons, and much sooner than anyone had predicted. A first-round win over Clemson was just icing on the cake.

Finally, after being out of the spotlight for years and years, Michigan was back, ranked 15th in the country entering John Beilein’s third year. Recruiting had started to pick up slowly as well, with Beilein securing a commitment from four-star Californian point guard Darius Morris and a trio of three stars in Jordan Morgan, Blake McLimans, and Matt Vogrich. At least this time around about half the class had options besides Michigan.

Upsetting UCLA, and Duke a week later, signaled the beginning of the return of Michigan basketball

There was only one problem – leadership. Michigan got off to a terrible start, losing five games before Big Ten season even began, and simply looked lost. They had the talent to compete, but the players didn’t play together, and at times, they didn’t seem to care. By the middle of Big Ten season Michigan was all but out of it, and a halfcourt dagger from Evan Turner in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament ended any shot the Wolverines once had of playing in any postseason tournament. The No. 15 team in the country going into the season ended the year with only 15 wins and a losing record. Beilein’s job was far from safe just a year after people were praising him for a quick turnaround.

Something had to change in the next offseason or the Michigan basketball program was in serious danger of reverting to the dark ages. That something was leadership. Sims graduated and Harris followed him out the door, meaning Beilein’s team would probably have to rely on his system to out-perform expectations yet again.

There is no doubt that Sims and Harris laid the foundation for the turnaround, but perhaps their departure came at the right time, as Novak took the team into his hands and led the way as Darius Morris bloomed into an All-Big Ten talent at point guard, leading the team in scoring and assists. Meanwhile, Tim Hardaway, Jr., though not highly-recruited, was another Beilein player making an impact, scoring double digits his freshman year. Jon Horford and Evan Smotrycz, a four-star, 6’9” shooter joined Hardaway as late bloomers that Beilein banked on turning into serviceable players on the biggest stage. The trend was starting to become clear: Beilein still couldn’t recruit with the big boys, but by getting guys that flew under the radar and fit his system, success was within reach.

The 2010-11 season was a success indeed, as the Wolverines got back on track after a scare at the beginning of Big Ten season in which Michigan lost six straight and was in danger of reeling out of control. The game that could have been the seventh loss in a row instead turned out to be the signature win of the Beilein era to date, as his struggling squad went into East Lansing and shocked Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. The win got the team in the groove, and only a two-point, last-second loss to Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament kept Michigan from reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in well over a decade.

A heralded recruiting class has Michigan in the preseason top 5

The following offseason there was further concern, as Morris bolted for the NBA, but as everyone knows by now, a relatively unknown freshman point guard by the name of Trey Burke did his best to make everyone forget about that last season. Another successful season last year ended in a disappointing second-round loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, but at this point it is clear that Beilein finally has a team full of his players, a team that he and most others feel can compete and win at the highest level. The Wolverines shared the Big Ten title for the first time in more than 20 years, a huge accomplishment for everyone involved, but perhaps even more is expected now.

Novak and Douglass were the heart of the Michigan team last season, and while their numbers didn’t jump off the page, one only needs to think back to that dubious 2009-10 season to realize that leadership will be one of the focal points early on in this season. Josh Bartelstein will be asked to lead as captain of the team off the court, but Beilein welcomes a bevy of talent in the form of both veterans and newbies, enough to see experts pegging the Wolverines in the top five teams in the country.

Without a doubt, this is unchartered territory for John Beilein, and while Ann Arbor has seen basketball teams that were thought of this highly in the past, it’s been at least 15 long years of suffering since that was the case. Looking over the past five seasons, this team has been on a roller coaster ride, but things have been looking up for three years straight. Beilein has silenced many of his doubters by continuing to eye top-level talent that goes under the radar (Glenn Robinson III), and more surprisingly, he has now shown that he is able to compete with the big boys on the recruiting trail now, grabbing the likes of Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas away from Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, and Kentucky.

The time for Beilein to show that he can bring a highly-regarded team to the promised land has come. If the Wolverines are to compete for Final Fours and National Championships into the future, they need to show this season that they can live up to lofty expectations. The talent is here, and Beilein has depth, size, and versatility in amounts he could have never imagined only two seasons ago. An All-American will run the team on the court, a seasoned junior will shoulder much of the scoring load, and two star freshmen should be ready to make an immediate impact. Will this team realize its potential and reach Atlanta in March, or will it all come crumbling down as it did three long years ago? No one knows for sure yet, and there will certainly be bumps in the road again. But for Michigan basketball, the time is now.

Season Predictions

Record:
26-6 (13-5 Big Ten)

Big Ten Finish:
T1

Postseason Finish:
Final Four

MVP:
Tim Hardaway, Jr.

Newcomer of the Year:
Glenn Robinson, III

Overachieving Wolverines Set Stage for Next Season

Monday, March 21st, 2011


As the body language of Tim Hardaway, Jr. reflects, this season was defined by over-achievement and heartache, but THJr. and the young Wolverines will be a force to be reckoned with next season

In a season that began with very low expectations, the 2010-11 Michigan basketball team turned in perhaps the program’s best season in over a decade and set the stage for what should be enormous expectations in 2011-12.

Picked by most to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Ten, Michigan fought to a fourth place finish, earned an eight-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and took first-seeded Duke to the wire in the third round. It was a season defined by over-achievement and missed opportunities.

When last season’s stars, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, bolted for the NBA and graduation, many wondered how Michigan would compete. Instead, rising stars emerged in sophomore Darius Morris and freshman Tim Hardaway, while the veterans, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass remained dependable.

The youngest team in the Big Ten, and tenth youngest in Div. 1A, paved the way for future success with solid team play and feisty defense. After starting the season 11-3, Michigan went on a six-game slide to fall to 1-6 in the Big Ten. It looked as if even an NIT bid was wishful thinking at that point. But the resilient Wolverines, with not a single senior on the team, went 8-3 the rest of the way, sweeping rival Michigan State for the first time since 1997, earning a fourth place finish in the conference and a four-seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

Still needing a win or two to cement an invitation to the Big Dance, Michigan came from behind to beat Illinois in the Big Ten Tourney opener and then fell to Ohio State in the semifinals. It was enough to earn an eight seed and a matchup with Tennessee.

In that first game, Michigan played perhaps its best game of the season, throttling the Volunteers by 30, the most lopsided win in the history of the 8/9 seed matchup, and setting up a showdown with first-seeded Duke.

Against Duke, Michigan fell behind early in the second half and fought back, erasing a 12 point deficit with just over six minutes to play, but Morris missed an eight-foot runner at the buzzer. It ended Michigan’s season two points shy of the Sweet 16.

Close Losses to Ranked Teams
Opponent Points
No. 9 Syracuse 3
No. 3 Kansas 7 (OT)
No. 2 Ohio State 4
No. 1 Ohio State 9
No. 12 Wisconsin 1
No. 1 Ohio State 7
No. 3 Duke 2

After over 10 years without an NCAA Tournament berth, John Beilein has guided Michigan to first round wins in two of the past three seasons. Both years, Michigan proved that while overmatched, it could compete with the big boys, and that was certainly the story of the season.

Michigan lost to then-No. 9 Syracuse by three, No. 3 Kansas in overtime, No. 1 Ohio State by four, nine, and seven, No. 12 Wisconsin by one on a buzzer-beater, and No. 3 Duke by two. While close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, it bodes well for next season, as Michigan returns everyone and will likely be one of the preseason favorites in a Big Ten that was very senior-heavy this season. Experience and leadership usual make the difference in close games, and Michigan will have that in 2011-12.

Incoming freshmen Trey Burke and Carlton Brundidge, both top 100 guards, should help provide more scoring and athleticism on the perimeter and the young big men, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Blake McLimans, will continue to develop.

It’s been a long time since we could say a Michigan team (football or basketball) has actually overachieved, but even in the face of disappointment from a loss to Duke, it feels good to be looking forward to next season with great anticipation.

A wish list for next season:

Jordan Morgan realizes he is, in fact, allowed to rebound and go up strong with the ball. He made great strides throughout the season and was most dangerous in transition, but played much smaller than he actually is. Way too many times, he got the ball on the post and brought it down with a dribble instead of taking it up strong. He has a good baby hook, but at times, he was too reliant on it. And way too many times, he failed to block out and rebound, especially on the offensive glass. Another offseason should help.

Evan Smotrycz improves his defense. I’m not hating on Smotz, since he was a true freshman after all. He showed some flashes of offense and shooting stroke, making him hard to guard for an opposing big man, but was often a liability on defense. It was especially apparent against Duke when he would jump out to close out, but remain so vertical that he either fouled or was beaten off the dribble. Like Morgan, offseason work, and just more experience in college ball, will help.

Darius Morris develops a shooting stroke. Morris was probably Michigan’s best player this season, leading the Big Ten in assists, and leading the team in scoring with 15 points per game. He’s at his best when driving through the lane, either for a runner or kicking it out to a shooter. However, every time he got an open look from the outside, Michigan fans cringed. He shot just 25 percent (16-of-64) from long range. In this offense, he’s not going to be called upon to shoot from the outside very often, but when he does get the occasional open look, I’d like him to at least be able to hit one of three.

Stu Douglass re-learns how to make free throws. Over the past three seasons, Douglass has hit his share of big threes. He shot 36 percent this season, but he consistently struggled with the easiest shot in basketball. He didn’t get there often, but made just three of 13 on the season and the misses always seemed to be at critical times. He missed the front end of a one-and-one against Duke that could have made the difference in the two-point loss. The strange thing is he wasn’t always this bad. In his first two seasons, he hit 40-of-55 (73 percent). Here’s to regaining that stroke next season.

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CONTENDER OR PRETENDER: Tuesday Kicks Off Telling Stretch for UM Hoops

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010


Michigan basketball survived the non-conference schedule in style, compiling a 10-2 record, and nearing serious “bubble” talk. But beginning with Tuesday’s Big Ten opener against No. 12 Purdue, the next two months will show whether this team is truly a contender to exceed expectations or just a pretender with the  benefit of a weak non-conference slate.

Darius Morris is eighth in the Big Ten in scoring and first in assists (Photo by MGoBlue.com)

I’ll admit that I wasn’t a believer in my season preview when I pegged this year’s squad as an 8-5 non-conference team. Well, with still one non-conference game yet to play, against No. 3 Kansas on Jan. 9, the worst the team could be is 10-3.

This is clearly a better team than anticipated given the departures of last year’s stars, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. It’s hard to imagine a team being better after losing those two guys, but in some ways, it is a better overall team. Every player on the court is capable of scoring and it doesn’t have to rely on one or two guys to take all the shots or make the big plays.

The two most experienced returning players, Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, have provided the stability the team needs, while sophomore point guard Darius Morris has exploded as the team’s best player. Morris has averaged 15.8 points and 7.5 assists per game and recorded his fourth double-double of the season in Michigan’s win over Bryant on Saturday, earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

Sophomore center Jordan Morgan has given Michigan a much-needed inside presence, tied with Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger for the Big Ten lead in offensive rebounds per game, and possessing the strength and agility to defend opposing big men underneath.

Tim Hardaway, Jr. has been a pleasant surprise in his freshman season, averaging 11.8 points per game and giving Michigan a consistent second scoring threat. He has scored double digits in seven of 12 games, including each of the last four, being named last week’s Big Ten co-Freshman of the Week.

Evan Smotrycz and Matt Vogrich have been solid as well, shooting a combined 36 percent from three-point range and averaging a combined 11 points.

The biggest knock on the Wolverines so far this season, and the reason Michigan isn’t ranked despite a 10-2 record, despite a record as good as or better than eight of the teams in the AP Top 25, is the lack of ranked opponents Michigan has played. Only undefeated Syracuse (then No. 9) was ranked when Michigan played them, and Michigan hung tough, losing by just three. It’s Syracuse’s closest win of the season so far.

Unfortunately, Michigan turned around and lost to UTEP the following day in the consolation game of the Legends Classic. That loss more than anything is what’s keeping Michigan from getting more love. The rest of the teams Michigan has faced have a combined record of 54-68.

Beginning with Tuesday’s game, 11 of Michigan’s 18 remaining games are against ranked opponents, including home and away against No. 2 Ohio State and home against No. 3 Kansas. It will likely need to win at least half of the remaining games to earn an NCAA tournament bid. Tuesday’s game will tell us a lot.

MICHIGAN BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Novak and Douglass Lead Wolverine Youth Movement

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010


Every year, I find mid-November to be an odd juncture in the world of sports. Baseball, the sport that kept us going through the football off-season, just came to climax a few weeks ago, and now football season is in full swing with teams gearing up for the conference title. But just as teams are trying to position themselves for bowl season, basketball throws its hat back into the ring as if to say, “I’m back. Remember me?”

Zack Novak (left) and Stu Douglass (right) are the elder statesmen of John Beilein's squad

Now we have the Tip-Off Marathon to get us through the week until the next football game, but until football season is over, basketball seems to remain just that: something to get us through until Saturday.

We’ve poured our fandom into the men of the gridiron since August, and now, just as it’s getting interesting with the Ohio State game looming, we’re required to shift our focus to the hardwood every now and then.

For me, it’s hard to get into basketball until after The Game signals the culmination of the football regular season. But tomorrow I’ll turn my gaze to the Big Ten Network as Michigan basketball hosts Bowling Green.

It’s not the official season opener. That was Saturday when Michigan throttled South Carolina Upstate 66-35. But in many ways it is since it’s played mid-week instead of right after a Michigan football game, and it’s the first televised game of the season. So what can we expect from Michigan this year?

Unfortunately, in many ways, it looks like it’s going to resemble this year’s football team: exciting to watch at times, but it has to depend so much on youth that we’ll be left thinking “can’t wait ’til next year.”

The heart and soul of last year’s team is gone, Manny Harris to the Cleveland Cavaliers and DeShawn Sims to graduation. And while Zack Gibson, Anthony Wright, and Lavell Lucas Perry were never mistaken for the trio down in South Beach, their experience will be missed as well. The roster now looks much like the football team’s secondary: a lot of “So.”s and “Fr.”s.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s still a lot of talent there. Zack Novak and Stu Douglass are now the leaders – the current juniors who electrified Ann Arbor with their gritty play and long-range shooting, helping Michigan break its decade-long tournament drought as freshmen, but suffered through a sophomore slump last season. Then there’s point guard Darius Morris who started 19 games as a freshman a year ago, averaging 4.4 points, 2.6 assists, and 1.8 rebounds a game, and giving Michigan its first true point guard with size in quite a while. And there’s also the three sons of former NBA players, Jordan Dumars, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Jon Horford.

While there’s room for optimism, we also must remember that Novak and Douglass struggled to find the net last season, shooting a combined 31.8 percent from three-point land. And we must remember that Morris was prone to turnovers and got too far ahead of himself at times. And we also must realize that, pedigree or not, Dumars, Hardaway, and Horford are all in their first season of collegiate action*.

One thing is certain: it’s officially John Beilein’s team. With Harris and Sims gone, every player on the roster is a Beilein recruit and will aim to run his system the way West Virginia did with a team of scrappy no-names. It’s a system predicated on shooting and last year that was a struggle. I would never call the departure of Harris and Sims a good thing, but perhaps the team will epitomize the word team with no go-to guy to rely on. Perhaps Novak and Douglass will have no second thoughts about whether to jack up a three or dish it off to Manny, and that, in turn, will make them better shooters.

They’ll have help on the inside with Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans. Morgan redshirted last season after dominating high school basketball in Detroit and is a athletic, thick body in the middle. McLimans also redshirted last season and is the tallest player on the team at 6’10″. He used the redshirt season to add 25 pounds of weight to his previously thin frame and should be ready to man up underneath this season while occasionally stepping out to hit the outside shot.

Sophomore guard Matt Vogrich, who got some playing time last season, will also be asked to contribute. Against Northern Michigan last season, he scored 15 points, all on three-pointers, and shot 39.3 percent from three-point range for the year.

The Newcomers
Tim Hardaway Jr. Jon Horford Evan Smotrycz
Colton Christian
10 15 23 45
G F F F
6’5″ 6’9″ 6’9″ 6’6″
185 lbs. 220 lbs. 225 lbs. 215 lbs.
Miami, Fla. Grand Ledge, Mich. Reading, Mass. Bellevue, Wash.
Palmetto Senior H.S. Grand Ledge H.S. New Hampton Prep (N.H.) Hargrave Military Academy

The season officially started last Saturday as Michigan handled South Carolina Upstate and Novak and Douglass went a combined three-for-six from long range, but it was Morris and Hardaway who stepped up.

Hardaway led all scorers in the first game of his career, scoring 19 points in 25 minutes, including three threes. Morris made seven-of-ten shots for 17 points. If Michigan can get that kind of production from those two all season, it will win plenty of games.

The non-conference portion of the schedule has a mix of cupcakes and quality opponents. Two should-win games are up next, Bowling Green tomorrow and Gardner-Webb on Sunday, before the first big test of the season, Syracuse, next Friday in Atlantic City, N.J. The Wolverines travel to Clemson for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 30 and host Utah on Dec. 10. Michigan also hosts Kansas on Jan. 9 after three Big Ten games and before closing out the season with the rest of the conference slate.

Including the Kansas game, I’d say an 8-5 non-conference record is likely, meaning Michigan will have to have a winning record in conference in order to make it to the Big Dance this season. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen this year with Ohio State and Michigan State on the schedule twice, as well as Illinois, Purdue, and the always tough Wisconsin. The Big Ten may not be as tough as it has been the past few years, but it will still be solid from top to bottom, and with such a young team, Michigan is a year away from really challenging for a title.

As much as it pains me to say it, this looks to be a season similar to last year’s, although it won’t feel as much of a letdown this year as it was after coming off a trip to the tournament prior to last season. I predict a 15-16 regular season record (7-11 in the Big Ten), but let’s hope I’m wrong. Go Blue!

*Dumars played in six games last season for South Florida before transferring to Michigan and sitting out the rest of the season.

Should Manny Harris Go Pro?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010


Michigan junior guard Manny Harris is reportedly announcing his decision on whether or not he’s going pro Monday morning at 11 a.m. Whatever his decision is, the biggest question remains whether he should go pro.

I’m not an NBA general manager or scout, but it is my opinion that he would be well served to return to Michigan for his senior season.

As of now, his projection is anywhere from mid-second round to undrafted. Unless he has heard otherwise from those in the know, why would he declare? If there’s any question as to whether you might not get drafted, there should be absolutely no reason to even think about entering the NBA Draft a year early.

This reminds me of Ernest Shazor who was a dominating, head-hunting strong safety for Michigan’s football team in the early part of the decade. His NFL Draft projection was mid-second round, and he jumped a year early. He went undrafted and never made it to the NFL.

Harris has been dominant at times for Michigan, but he has also been inconsistent and had some maturity problems.

His strength is driving to the basket, and he can pour in points by the bunches, but his outside shot still needs some work and he’s careless with the ball at times.

Harris averaged 17 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists the past three seasons

Harris averaged 17 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists the past three seasons

Manny has done a lot for Michigan basketball in the past three years. As a senior at Detroit Redford High School, he was Michigan’s Mr. Basketball and gave his commitment to then-Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker. But Amaker was fired after the 2006 season and Harris thought about looking elsewhere.

New Michigan head coach John Beilein convinced Harris to come to Michigan and after a disappointing freshman season, Harris led Michigan to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years.

This season, Harris was the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, but fell short of the expectations and wasn’t able to lead Michigan back to the postseason. He averaged 18.1 points, good for fourth in the Big Ten, and six rebounds, 11th in the Big Ten; however, his play was inconsistent.

Midway through the season, Beilein benched Harris for a game for “unsportsmanlike conduct during practice.”

It’s unclear whether that strained Harris’ relationship with Coach Beilein or whether that will play a factor in his decision to turn pro. What is clear is his friendship with senior forward DeShawn Sims. The two formed the “Detroit Duo” and were the only rays of light in an abysmal season this year.

Sims came to Michigan a year before Harris and stayed through the coaching change, welcoming Harris to Ann Arbor in 2006. He made the decision last season to return for his senior year.

“My best decision was to come back to Michigan,” Sims said last year. “I want to graduate. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever come back to school if I left early.”

Harris also thought about turning pro after his sophomore season, but decided to return.

“I wasn’t at all serious about going pro,” Harris said. “A lot of people got in my ear telling me to make the jump, but I wasn’t thinking about leaving. I never was a person who came here thinking I’m one (season) and done, or two and done.”

But three and done? We’ll find out tomorrow morning.

Manny Suspension Shows Beilein’s Convictions at Cost of Winning

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010


With the one-game suspension of Manny Harris on Saturday, Michigan head coach John Beilein essentially waved the white flag on Michigan’s season.

*John Beilein and Manny Harris

*John Beilein and Manny Harris

Harris, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 19.2 points per game, was suspended for Michigan’s game against Purdue as a result of “unsportsmanlike conduct during practice” on Friday.

“Manny has made great strides both on and off the court over the last three years,” said Beilein in a release issued Saturday morning. “Unfortunately he used poor judgment on Friday. It is best for Manny’s future if he stays home and sits out this Purdue game.”

Details on the act of unsportsmanlike conduct have not been released, so we have to trust the coach’s judgment without criticizing his decision.

Regardless of whether the act merited a one-game suspension or not, Beilein decided that suspending Harris and sacrificing a game would pay off in the long run.

Of course, Beilein would never say that. He, as probably every other coach in America, would say he expected the team to beat Purdue even without Harris. But that’s like expecting the Colts to beat the Jets without Peyton Manning.

Don’t be mistaken by the 10-point margin of victory. It wasn’t that close. Purdue built a 27-point lead midway through the second half before Purdue coach Matt Painter started emptying his bench and Purdue’s defensive intensity dropped off.

DeShawn Sims filled Harris’ void early on, but unfortunately, no one else did. Michigan didn’t get a second scorer until Zach Novak hit a three with 7:38 remaining in the first half.

By that time, Michigan was all but out of the game.

The loss drops Michigan to 10-9 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten with a matchup with rival Michigan State looming.

At this point, anything short of running the table or winning the conference tournament assures Michigan of a postseason date in the National Invitational Tournament at best.  

So, in such a critical game, was Beilein’s decision to suspend Harris the right one?

It depends on what happened, and we may never know, but one thing is for certain: Beilein is a coach that stands on his convictions as much as any other coach. Win or lose, he does things the right way by caring as much about the growth and development of young men than solely wins and losses.

Consider some recent examples from other college coaches for comparison.

*Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes tries to gouge the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey on Oct. 31

*Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes tries to gouge the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey on Oct. 31

In Florida’s football game against Georgia on Oct. 31, linebacker Brandon Spikes, the leader of the team’s defense, viciously dug his fingers through the facemask of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey.

The attempted eye gouge was caught on camera and was a clear act of unsportsmanlike conduct, to say the least. It was an attempt to injure another player that could have significantly impacted Ealey’s life beyond football.

Florida head coach Urban Meyer responded by handing down a half-game suspension of Florida’s next game against Vanderbilt.

Half of a game against one of the worst opponents on the schedule for attempting to maim another player in an act completely outside of the normal course of the game.

Spikes later responded to the backlash from the fans and media by suspending himself for the rest of that game.

Meyer apparently thought standing Spikes on the sidelines for the first 30 minutes of a pretty much meaningless game was justice for blatantly trying to injure another player.

In other words, Meyer cared more about winning a game than teaching a 20-year old kid a lesson.

At Michigan State, running back Glenn Winston spent four months in jail during the offseason for putting a hockey player in the hospital with severe head injuries.

This wasn’t a black eye. This was a fractured skull and a subdural hematoma, or bleeding of the brain.

According to reports, the hockey player, A.J. Sturges wasn’t even involved in the fight. He was just blindsided by Winston. As a result, he missed the rest of the hockey season, and memory loss caused him to drop classes.

Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio immediately reinstated Winston to the football team when fall practice resumed, and Winston began the season as the starting running back before injuring his knee.

*Harris leads Michigan and the Big Ten in scoring with 19.2 points per game

*Harris leads Michigan and the Big Ten in scoring with 19.2 points per game

Did he learn his lesson? Apparently jail time wasn’t enough. Winston was involved in another off-the-field incident last November, when he and some teammates stormed into a dorm and assaulted a group of students at a potluck dinner. Only then was Winston dismissed from the team.

Was Harris’ act of unsportsmanlike conduct on Friday as bad as either of those two scenarios? It’s probably safe to say that he didn’t put someone in the hospital with a severe head injury, and it most likely wasn’t as severe as attempting to gouge out another player’s eyes.

Yet Beilein made the tough decision to suspend his best player for a must-win game. He sent a message that no player is bigger than the team, and if a player’s actions undermined the coach or disrespected his teammates, he was going to be penalized for it, regardless of whether he was the star player or the last man off the bench.

If that means losing a game because of it, then so be it, because Harris and the rest of the team will learn from it. Or at least Beilein hopes.

“We will meet with Manny and the team again when we return to determine if he has learned enough from this suspension to rejoin the team for Tuesday’s game,” Beilein said. “I am confident that this learning experience will be valuable in the future to both Manny and our basketball program.”

Now the question is whether Harris will respond as a better teammate and role model, or whether he will harbor resentment towards Beilein for sitting him out of an important game and possibly hurting his chances for Big Ten Player of the Year.

We’ll find out on Tuesday when Michigan hopes to hand seventh-ranked Michigan State its first Big Ten loss of the season.

UConn Game Provides Opportunity for Wolverines

Saturday, January 16th, 2010


Michigan (9-7, 3-2 Big Ten) hosts Connecticut on Sunday looking for a much-needed signature win to enhance its NCAA tournament resume.

That Michigan is still in the running for the NCAA tournament is a bit optimistic at this point, given that Michigan’s biggest win so far was a nine point home win over then-15th ranked Ohio State.

*Head coach John Beilein hopes the Maize Rage student section can fuel Michigan to a win over Connecticut, photo by the AP

*Head coach John Beilein hopes the Maize Rage student section can fuel Michigan to a win over Connecticut, photo by the AP

But with the Big Ten race wide open, a team that gets hot down the stretch could very well play its way into the NCAA tournament.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Michigan is as good a team as Michigan State, Wisconsin or Purdue, but if the shots are falling, beating those teams is certainly not out of the question.

Michigan’s main problems this season have been shooting woes and lack of leadership – two things that carried the team into the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.

The leadership issue was lost when senior guards C.J. Lee and David Merritt graduated, and John Beilein’s team has struggled to fill that role.

“We’re better than this,” said Beilein following Michigan’s loss to Northwestern last Sunday – a game in which Michigan led by 17 at halftime.  ”But it’s just a big thing right now, a chemistry we’ve got to develop on this team.”

Perhaps that chemistry was found in the second half of Thursday night’s win over Indiana after Michigan played what was probably its worst half of the season, when it committed 11 turnovers in the first half.

Junior star guard Manny Harris went the first 20 minutes without a made field goal, scoring just four points, all on free throws. His shots were forced and his play was lackadaisical..

Freshman guard Darius Morris has to play beyond his age against Connecticut, photo by Mgoblue.com

Freshman guard Darius Morris has to play beyond his age against Connecticut, photo by Mgoblue.com

The second half began much the same way until Beilein went to perhaps his best coaching move of the season last year – putting Harris on the bench for an extended period of time.

Last year, Beilein sat Harris for the entire overtime period at Iowa. Michigan was out-scored 14-4 in that period and fell to 7-8 in Big Ten play. Fans were outraged at the move as it seemingly hurt Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances.

But four days later, Harris exploded for 27 points in an upset of 16thranked Purdue, and Michigan would win three of its final five games to earn a spot in the tournament.  

This time, Harris emerged from the bench after a few minutes, with Indiana within four, and poured in 17 points the final 12 minutes of the game. Michigan won by 24, outscoring Indiana 21-2 in the final six minutes.

Shots were falling and Michigan looked like it was having as much fun as it has had since the season started. Can it carry that confidence into the rest of the season?

Make no mistake about it; Indiana is not a good team, so to say that this was a big win is an exaggeration. But it was a win that Michigan needed and hopes to build upon.

Enter Connecticut (11-5, 2-3 Big East). The nation’s 15th-ranked team began the season 9-2, but has dropped three of its last five since entering the arduous Big East schedule.

Just looking at the rosters, it seems as if Connecticut has a major advantage: size. Five guys stand 6’9” or taller that see minutes for the Huskies, compared to just one – Zach Gibson – for Michigan, and Gibson only averages just under 10 minutes per game.

UConn had the same advantage last season, along with Hasheem Thabeet, the second pick in last year’s NBA Draft, and Michigan hung with the Huskies in Storrs.

This year’s Connecticut team isn’t quite as good and turns the ball over nearly 14 times per game, which plays right into Michigan’s hands. Michigan forces 15.2 turnovers per game.

If Michigan can carry over the momentum from Thursday’s second half and feed off a frenzied “maize out” home crowd, much like during last year’s upset of Duke, it can earn that signature win for its resume.

For a team so in need of a resume boost, this week is do-or-die.

*DeShawn Sims has averaged 22.5 points in the last four games, photo by Mgoblue.com

*DeShawn Sims has averaged 22.5 points in the last four games, photo by Mgoblue.com

Following Sunday’s game, Michigan travels to No. 13 Wisconsin on Wednesday and No. 6 Purdue on Saturday before returning to Ann Arbor to host No. 7 Michigan State the following Tuesday.

While a win over Connecticut won’t help in the Big Ten race, it would give Michigan confidence heading into those three key conference match-ups.

Michigan has shown some signs of progress the past couple of weeks, but has yet to put a full 40 minutes together.

A poor first half last week at Penn State preceded a dominant second half comeback in which Michigan outscored Penn State 38-13 during one stretch en route to a nine-point win.

The following game, Michigan raced out to a 17-point lead against Northwestern, but couldn’t hold on in the second half, falling 68-62.

Then on Thursday, Michigan played a poor first half, but exploded in the second to thump Indiana by 24.

 Senior DeShawn Sims is playing the best basketball of his career as of late, carrying Michigan even when Harris is in a funk.

The versatile forward has averaged 20.3 points per game since being held to just 10 against Utah on Dec. 9, and 22.5 points per game in the last four.

His ability to step outside and hit the mid-range jumper and the occasional three has kept Michigan afloat while the guards struggled from the outside.

For Michigan to win on Sunday, it will need another big performance from Sims, and with both he and Harris leading the way, Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances aren’t dead yet.

Michigan Struggles to Find Its Rhythm; Is It Time to Panic Yet

Sunday, December 6th, 2009


After two straight losses in the Old Spice Classic and a four-point loss to Boston College in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, is it time for Michigan fans to recalibrate their expectations for this season?

*Michigan has struggled to a 4-3 start, photo by the Ann Arbor News

*Michigan has struggled to a 4-3 start, photo by the Ann Arbor News

Michigan entered the season ranked 15th in the nation, fresh off its first trip to the NCAA tournament in 10 years, and looking to make a run at the Big Ten title.

Seven games later, Michigan is out of the Top 25 and needed a good second half on Saturday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff to move its record back above .500.

Is it too early to write off the season? Absolutely not. John Beilein is a great coach who can turn things around.

But, although these early-season struggles raise some concerns, they aren’t as surprising as they seem.

This is still a very young team. Yes, it’s led by senior DeShawn Sims and junior Manny Harris, but 75 percent of the team is underclassmen.

Aside from Sims and Harris, only redshirt senior Zack Gibson and redshirt junior Anthony Wright have more than a year of playing experience, and the two combine for just 20 minutes of playing time per game.

So it should come as no surprise that the team’s main problem is its shooting so far this season. Michigan seems to be struggling with its confidence.

Through seven games, Michigan is shooting just 29 percent from three-point range, though even that number is inflated from the first three games against weak competition.

Against Northern Michigan, Houston Baptist and Creighton, Michigan shot 36.2 percent from long range.

In the three subsequent losses, Michigan shot just 21.8 percent from downtown, including a miserable 3-for-20 outing against Marquette and 9-for-34 against Boston College.

Talk about living and dying by the three.

*UM coach John Beilein certainly isn't happy about the team's poor shooting, photo by John T. Greilick / The Detroit News

*UM coach John Beilein certainly isn't happy about the team's poor shooting, photo by John T. Greilick / The Detroit News

No one has looked comfortable shooting the ball the past four games (including Saturday’s 67-53 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff).

Michigan’s best three-point shooter so far this season (percentage-wise) is true freshman Matt Vogrich, though he is just 6-for-11.

Sharp-shooting sophomores Zach Novak and Stu Douglass are just 31 and 22.6 percent, respectively, while Harris has made just 7-of-33 attempts from long range.

For a team that relies heavily on guard play and three-point shooting, that’s certainly not a recipe for success.

But that’s also why I’m hopeful that the season is not lost. Surely the team will gain its confidence and the shooting will improve.

Douglass, Novak and Harris each shot about 34 percent last season from three-point range and will eventually find their shot this year. And when that happens, Michigan will be a dangerous team capable of beating anybody.

So far, Harris has been every bit of the pre-season co-Big Ten player of the year, averaging 21.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, despite his poor shooting.

He had just the second triple-double in school history in Michigan’s season-opening win over Northern Michigan, and was a rebound away from another against Creighton.

Sims has also played well, averaging 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and had his best game of the season on Saturday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He scored 15 points in the first half on his way to a 19-point, 10-rebound performance.

The surrounding cast hasn’t given Harris and Sims much help and Michigan needs a third scoring threat to emerge in order to live up to the preseason expectations.

It makes me wonder if the losses of guards David Merritt and C.J. Lee to graduation really did affect this team more than I thought it would.

Merritt and Lee averaged just 4.7 points per game combined, but they were the leaders. They played tough defense, dove for loose balls, and held the team together.

Early this season, Michigan has lacked those qualities. Novak vowed to fill that role, but hasn’t been a consistent scoring option so far.

True freshman Darius Morris took over the point guard duties, but has just as many turnovers as assists and doesn’t look to shoot enough.

Douglass is a defensive liability when he’s on the court, which is acceptable when he’s hitting threes, but he hasn’t found his shot yet this year.

As the season progresses, Michigan will grow to fill that void, but it’s running out of time.

With non-conference games at Utah and Kansas remaining, as well as a January match-up with Connecticut, Michigan probably has to win two of those three to have a shot at postseason play.

Utah certainly looks beatable, having losses to Idaho, Seattle, and Weber State on its resume, but it did beat Illinois, and the game is in Salt Lake, so it’s not a given.

Michigan ended its three game losing streak by beating Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday and seemed to find its rhythm in the second half.

If it can carry over that confidence into Wednesday’s game at Utah, Michigan will be on track to enter the Big Ten schedule.

It’s not time to panic yet, but Utah could be the game that makes or breaks the season. A loss will probably mean Michigan needs to beat Kansas and UConn or fare far better in the Big Ten than expected.

I expect the shooting will turn around, but it better do so on Wednesday in Salt Lake City.