Posts Tagged ‘Matt Vogrich’

How Michigan basketball performed relative to expectations

Thursday, April 11th, 2013


Michigan’s magical season came to an end Monday night in heartbreaking fashion. But it was hard to stay down for long given the show Team 96 put on in one of the greatest national championship games we’ll ever see. No one will ever say a loss is a good thing. It’s not and this one wasn’t. It hurt, moreso for the players and coaches involved than you or I will ever know. But the young Wolverines played like they belonged to be there. They played well enough to win, and if not for a bad break here or there, they would have.

But even though the season ended just short of the ultimate goal, what Team 96 achieved will go down in Michigan history right alongside the national championship winning 1989 team, the Fab Five, and all the rest of the great teams to don the maize and blue.

Six months from now, Team 97 will begin anew and we will root them on with a renewed love and passion for Michigan basketball. For the first time in a long time, Michigan basketball will enter a season viewed in high regard on a national stage. But before we get there, and before we even turn our full attention to football, let’s look back at what we expected out of this team and compare our expectations to how it performed.

Back in November as Michigan was getting ready to open its season at home against Slippery Rock, Sam posted his season preview. In it, he pegged the Wolverines to finish the regular season 26-6 and 13-5 in the Big Ten. In reality, they went 26-7 and 12-6. Furthermore, he pegged Michigan as a Final Four squad, which they not only were, but went one game further and finished the season with a school record 31 wins and just eight losses. Sam picked Michigan to finish first in the Big Ten, but they fell just short, although the fifth-place finish is deceiving since they were one rotation of the ball away from beating Indiana and claiming a share of the title.

As far as individual players go, in Sam’s player previews, he forecasted their stat lines from points, rebounds, and assists to field goal and three-point percentage. Let’s see how they performed based on expectations.
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Trey Burke
Points FG% 3-pt % FT% Rebounds Assists Steals TOs Blocks Minutes
Predicted 15.0 44.8 37.0 81.2 3.3 5.7 1.0 2.2 0.4 35.0
Actual 18.6 46.3 38.4 80.1 3.2 6.7 1.6 2.2 0.5 35.3
Difference +3.6 +1.5 +1.4 -1.1 -0.1 +1.0 +0.6 +0.1 +0.3

Recap: The sentence that hit the nail on the head was “A huge season for Trey likely means a deep run in March for the Wolverines, but if he sees a sophomore slump, Michigan could find itself underachieving massively.” Big Tean and National Player of the Year is certainly a huge year and Michigan made the deepest March run possible. Burke outperformed his expectations in nearly every category – at least in the ones that matter most – and led Michigan to the brink of a national title.

Future: Trey is the most likely player to jump to the NBA and if he does, no one will blame him. He has done more in his two seasons in Ann Arbor than most players do in their career. He set the single season assists record, was a consensus first team All-American, Big Ten Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, and Wooden Award winner to name a few. He’s a projected lottery pick in the NBA Draft – Chad Ford has him listed 6th in his updated mock draft – and he’s only that low because of his height. He doesn’t have much left to prove at Michigan, but maybe, just maybe, he will want to return to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten title and win a national championship next season. We can hope.
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Tim Hardaway Jr.
Points FG% 3-pt % FT% Rebounds Assists Steals Minutes
Predicted 15.0 46.0 40.1 77.8 3.2 2.9 1.0 33.0
Actual 14.5 43.7 37.4 69.4 4.7 2.4 0.7 34.8
Difference -0.5 -2.3 -2.7 -8.4 +1.5 -0.5 -0.3 +1.8

Recap: Hardaway improved his shooting and three-point shooting this season compared to his sophomore season, but they still fell short of his projected averages. In Sam’s preview of Tim he wrote, “There’s no doubt that that Tim Hardaway is one of the best players on this team and an intriguing NBA prospect…but he will need to show some consistency on both ends of the court if he is to realize his dream and follow in his dad’s footsteps to the League.” Hardaway still struggled with consistency this season. When he was on, he was on. Take the Ohio State game in Ann Arbor for instance, when he hit 6-of-9 three-point attempts to carry the Wolverines to victory. However, he also went a combined 4-of-23 from the field in two games against Michigan State and went just 16-of-53 (30.2 percent) from the field and 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) from downtown in the final four games of the NCAA Tournament.

Future: Based purely on speculation, if I had to bet on it right now, I’d say Hardaway will make the jump to the NBA. But scouts don’t have him as a first round prospect anymore and he could drastically help his draft prospects with one more year in Ann Arbor. If he stays and is able to improve his shooting and become more consistent, he could easily work his way into the top half of the first round in 2014.
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Mitch McGary
Points Rebounds Assists Blocks Minutes
Predicted 10.0 8.2 1.5 1.5 22.0
Actual 7.5 6.3 0.6 0.7 19.7
Difference -2.5 -1.9 -0.9 -0.8 -2.3

Recap: Predicting the production from a true freshman is next to impossible because you don’t know how long it will take him to adapt to the college game. Everyone knew McGary would be a very good player for Michigan, but nobody really knew whether it would be right from the start or whether it would take him a while. He showed flashes of his potential right from the start, but served as Michigan’s sixth man for most of the season, giving the team a spark off the bench. In the tournament, however, he blossomed into a star. He was the talk of the tournament – at least up until his disappointing performance that was marred by foul trouble in the national title game – after back-to-back dominant performances against VCU and Kansas. He underperformed based on Sam’s projections, but he showed everyone late in the season that the expectations will be high next season.

Future: McGary’s breakout tournament performance moved him all the way up to 12th in Chad Ford’s latest mock draft, something that might tempt him to make the jump. But I don’t think he will. He has the potential to be an absolute star, and with a full season in 2013-14 like he had in the tournament, could easily become a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Expect McGary to return to dominate the paint for Michigan next season.
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Nik Stauskas
Points Rebounds Assists Minutes
Predicted 5.2 2.3 1.2 12.0
Actual 11.0 3.0 1.3 30.5
Difference +5.8 +0.7 +0.1 +18.5

Recap: As with McGary, predicting the stats of a true freshman can sometimes be very wrong. In this case, Stauskas performed much better than predicted. In a sense, much more was known about McGary coming out of high school as, at one point, the #2 player in the class, but there wasn’t much to go off of for Stauskas, the Canadian assassin. All that was really known was that he was deadly from behind the arc. It wasn’t until the season started that everybody realized the often heard phrase “he’s not just a shooter.” He finished third on the team with 11 points a game, which is impressive, and earned a starting spot very early on, so his minutes were much higher than predicted. But his shot struggled in the second half of the season with the exception of the 6-of-6 performance against Florida in the Elite Eight. He finished the season 46.3 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point.

Future: Stauskas isn’t a threat to go pro this season, so we don’t have to worry about that. He has vowed to return a different player next season, hitting the gym hard during the summer and coming back stronger and better defensively. The defensive end was by far his weak point this season, and if he can improve that, he’ll be a very dangerous player going forward.
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Glenn Robinson III
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Minutes
Predicted 11.0 4.5 2.3 1.2 28.0
Actual 11.0 5.4 1.1 1.0 33.6
Difference +0.9 -1.2 -0.2 +5.6

Recap: Robinson might have been the easiest freshman to predict since most knew he would start from the get-go. His 11 points per game average was exactly what Sam projected and he exceeded his projected rebound average, finishing as the team’s second best rebounder behind McGary. He played more minutes than expected and was always dangerous on the baseline and around the rim.

Future: There’s a slight chance Robinson could make the jump to the NBA since he oozes potential. Chad Ford projected him to go 15th in his latest mock draft. He’ll likely stick around for at least one more year to improve his game and potentially move into the top 10. The main area of work is creating his own shots. In his player preview, Sam said, “He’s certainly a capable shooter, but no one is quite sure how good. We also know he can fill it up from mid-range and will be deadly around the rim, but I’ll be interested to see how his overall offensive game develops and where the majority of his shots come from.” This season, he was mostly reliant on Burke and others to get him the ball in position to hit a shot or to score around the rim. If he can improve to the point where he can create his own shots, he will be lethal.
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Jordan Morgan
Points FG% FT% Rebounds Assists Steals Minutes
Predicted 8.5 55.0 60.1 5.8 0.8 0.8 22.0
Actual 4.6 57.7 55.8 4.3 0.3 0.3 15.9
Difference -3.9 +2.7 -4.3 -1.5 -0.5 -0.5 -6.1

Recap: It’s no secret that Morgan was somewhat of a disappointment this season. No one expected him to be a first team All-Big Ten caliber player, but in his first two seasons he showed potential to be a reliable big man. But this season, he struggled to be a consistent scoring option and had problems catching the ball down low. He underperformed in nearly every category and eventually lost his starting job to McGary during the tournament.

Future: Morgan has one season left in Ann Arbor and is still an important piece of the puzzle for John Beilein. He remains one of Michigan’s best defensive players, and that was no more evident than when he came in and took a charge at the end of the Final Four game against Syracuse that essentially sealed Michigan’s win. If he can work on his hands to the point that he’s able to catch the balls that are fed to him on the pick and roll, he could earn back some playing time next season. Otherwise, he’s probably destined to be the first or second man off the bench.
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Jon Horford
Points FG% FT% Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Minutes
Predicted 6.5 55.0 85.0 4.5 0.8 0.5 1.8 15.0
Actual 2.7 57.6 70.4 2.2 0.2 0.2 0.4 8.8
Difference -3.8 +2.6 -14.6 -2.3 -0.6 -0.3 -1.4 -6.2

Recap: Horford continues to develop as a player and fight through injuries early in his career. He missed several games early in the season due to injury, which set back his development and allowed McGary to eat up some of his playing time. Sam said as much in his player preview: “Pay very close attention to him early on to see how his season may go.” The time missed resulted in only 8.8 minutes per game throughout the season. When he was on the court, he was usually reliable, capable of rebounding and finishing when given the opportunity and stepping up and hitting free throws. But he wasn’t the breakout player that Sam thought he might become.

Future: There is still optimism for Big Jon’s future. He has the lineage and the work ethic – he hit the gym to work on shooting right after Michigan arrived back in Ann Arbor after the national championship game – to become a dependable big man worthy of more minutes. He just needs a full off-season and season of staying healthy. If he, Morgan, and McGary continue to develop, Michigan could have a very good frontcourt next season.
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Spike Albrecht
Points Assists Rebounds Steals Minutes
Predicted 1.2 1.0 0.5 0.3 4.0
Actual 2.2 0.7 0.8 0.3 8.1
Difference +1.0 -0.3 +0.3 +4.1

Recap: Perhaps the rotation player that carried the lowest expectations into the season, Spike proved that he has what it takes to run the basketball team at the college level. He was only expected to manage the offense for a few minutes a game while Burke got a breather, and he did that adequately. But in the Final Four, he gave the world a glimpse of his potential. In the semifinal against Syracuse, he hit two key threes to fuel Michigan’s lead, and then in the national championship game, he exploded for 17 first half points. It was like Rudy, except you know, good. He fizzled in the second half, not used to playing so many minutes, especially on such a big stage, but his performance at least put to ease concerns about who will run the team if Burke makes the jump to the NBA.

Future: While Michigan has had the bittersweet reality of great point guards that leave early the past few years – first Darius Morris and now, most likely, Burke – Albrecht is a nice change of pace. He’ll never be a threat to leave early and he may never even earn a starting spot since Michigan has another talented point guard coming in next season. But he gives the position quality depth, which is something it has lacked.
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Matt Vogrich
Points FG% 3-pt % Rebounds Assists Steals Minutes
Predicted 4.3 44.0 41.3 1.5 0.5 0.5 13.0
Actual 1.0 33.3 26.3 0.9 0.1 0.1 5.6
Difference -3.3 -6.7 -15.0 -0.6 -0.4 -0.4 -7.4

Recap: Like Morgan, Matt Vogrich saw his playing time dip this season, but his happened a lot sooner. He began the year as a starter, but that only lasted a handful of games before Stauskas took over. In fact, Vogrich played double digit minutes in only four games all season. He scored his season high of eight points in the season opener against Slipper Rock and then didn’t score more than three in a game the rest of the way. He enjoyed an interesting career that saw his playing time fall as his career went on, but that also coincided with team success.

Future: Vogrich’s career is over.
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As you can see, the player who most outperformed his expectations was Burke, which is extremely impressive given the expectations he had after his freshman campaign. It’s no wonder he won every award imaginable. Stauskas also vastly outperformed his projections, though I don’t think anyone could have thought he’d have so much early success. Glenn Robinson III performed right on his expectations and will likely have them raised going into next season.

The biggest underperformers were the big men. Morgan and Horford could improve next year, while McGary will likely have the highest expectations of anyone on the team going into 2013-14. Hardaway also underperformed slightly despite improving his shooting. If he returns for his senior season, his expectations will be high once again.

Now, we wait and see what Burke, Hardaway, McGary, and Robinson decide regarding their futures. The choices they make will determine the expectations the team has going into next season. It’s most likely that two of the four will leave, but as we saw with Taylor Lewan’s surprising decision to return for his senior year, anything is possible.

An ode to Team 96, forever winners in our hearts

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013


via MGoBlue.com

Meet Josh Bartelstein, Michigan’s senior captain who played a total of 56 minutes in his Michigan career, none of them meaningful in any game, but all of them significant to his 14 teammates. The blogger and son of a prominent NBA agent, Bartelstein is more likely to represent future professionals than ever get paid to play himself, but the respect this team had for him was immense. No Michigan player was ever more excited to see a made three-pointer than when Bartelstein made either of his two career field goals, one last year and one the year prior.

Meet Corey Person, a fifth-year senior who was offered to come back for one last year this season not because of his on-court production but because of his off-court leadership, and, most likely, his pre-game dance ritual, a staple that will be dearly missed and never forgotten. Person entered graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree last year, and despite the time commitment he made for such little recognition, Person never once questioned his decision, a sacrifice certainly appreciated by his teammates.

Senior Josh Bartelstein served as team captain this season (MGoBlue.com)

Meet Eso Akunne, another senior who rarely had a direct impact on any game but again stuck it out and never complained. Akunne lost his mother two summers ago to cancer, and was never able to give her a final farewell as she passed away a half-world apart, but his strength and courage contributed to the team’s success perhaps more than any basketball play could have.

Meet Matt Vogrich and Blake McLimans, the fourth and fifth senior veterans of this University of Michigan basketball team. Both Vogrich and McLimans accepted scholarship offers from John Beilein with very little to go off other than one NCAA Tournament appearance and eventually had to accept “role player” spots on the team as younger players’ talent won out. Regardless, neither player once complained to the media or otherwise about a reduction in minutes played and points scored in each of their last three seasons, instead cheering on their teammates and happily playing their part as senior leaders.

Meet Jordan Morgan, a fourth-year junior who will be back for one final swan song next season. Morgan entered the year as a starter and played the role admirably for the most part before injuring his ankle in Michigan’s first loss of the season and never fully recovering health-wise or confidence-wise, eventually seeing his starting spot dissipate as freshman Mitch McGary stole headlines throughout the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, Morgan continued to give everything he had and was often the on-court vocal leader of this team and a guy who everyone looked up to despite his struggles. A quiet night in the championship game was aptly preceded for Morgan by his thunderous game-ending dunk in the semifinals over Syracuse.

Meet Max Bielfeldt, who chose to play for Michigan two years ago despite an unclear situation in terms of playing time and his family’s strong allegiances to Illinois. Bielfeldt, a redshirt freshman who must feel like a sixth wheel among the “Fresh Five”, has three years left of eligibility but certainly realizes that his battle for playing time will continue to be an uphill climb as the years continue to pass. Still, the player lovingly referred to as Moose by his fellow teammates was nothing but smiles and laughs throughout Michigan’s post-season run even though he only stepped on the floor for less than one minute the entire time.

Fifth-year senior Corey Person didn't play much but his pre-game dance will be missed (MLive.com)

Meet Jon Horford, a redshirt sophomore who continues to ooze potential but has a ways to go before putting it all together. Horford always seemed to be in positive spirits despite an early-season knee injury (his second in two seasons) and worked his way into productive minutes this year. The younger brother of NBA All-Star Al Horford is often over-shadowed in the media and was often over-matched on the court by stronger, quicker, and more talented big men this year, but Jon still has plenty more basketball to look forward to in Ann Arbor and will continue to put forth full effort every time he steps on the floor. His length and shot-blocking prowess make him an important piece moving forward, and Horford’s final point this year, a made free throw to give Michigan a three-point lead with just 18 seconds left against Syracuse in the first Final Four game, was absolutely crucial, especially considering he had missed the first.

Meet Caris LeVert, the skinniest, youngest, and last member of this year’s freshman class. A former Ohio University commit, LeVert switched his pledge to Michigan after coach John Groce left the Bobcat program and was immediately projected to redshirt this year in order to gain some weight and experience off the court. Early on, however, it was clear that LeVert had too much heart and not enough quit to let that happen, quickly over-taking Vogrich’s minutes by mid-season and going on to make a bigger impact than anyone could have predicted. The lanky 18-year-old was almost always out-muscled by his man and he finished this season with by far the lowest shooting percentage of any regularly-used player, but LeVert’s defense was always praised by coaches and his gutty eight-point performance against Syracuse was the difference between the biggest win and the hardest loss of the season for the Maize and Blue.

Matt Vogrich enjoyed success early in his career but was relegated to the bench this season (MGoBlue.com)

Meet Nik Stauskas, the Canadian sniper that will probably end up being the best shooter Michigan coach John Beilein has ever taught when his career comes to an end. The second commit of this freshman class, Stauskas honed his shooting skills in his cold backyard with the rebounding help of his dad for years as preparation for this – a chance to contribute on a championship-contending team and a potential future NBA career. This year saw its ups and downs for Stauskas, from the amazing 22-point shooting display to lead Michigan over Florida for the South regional title to the measly three combined points in the two Final Four games in Atlanta, but overall it was an incredible year for the calm, confident kid with a bright future in Ann Arbor and beyond.

Meet Spike Albrecht, another unheralded freshman who was brought in as a last-minute emergency plan in case Trey Burke had decided to bolt for the NBA last year. Once Burke announced his plans to return, most assumed that Albrecht would be relegated to a bench-warming spot, and his baby-face looks lent to some confusion as to whether Spike was a player or manager, but the sure-handed and sure-headed 20-year-old set things straight throughout the year with solid contributions in spot minutes. As the year went on, Albrecht seemed to provide more and more on a nightly basis, finally culminating with a captivating 17-point first half performance in the championship game on a brilliant 6-of-7 shooting stretch that stole big minutes on ESPN and stunned college basketball fans around the country – a show that followed a perfect, albeit short-lived, six-point outing in four minutes against Syracuse. Spike has now won over the hearts of many young women and Michigan fans everywhere and will look to build on his already growing legacy with three more years in Ann Arbor and a more prominent spotlight.

Meet Glenn Robinson III, the quiet, athletic freshman assassin. The son of former college great Glenn Robinson, Little Dog was never the focal point of this Michigan offense, but he always seemed to manage double-digit points while grabbing a few rebounds, helping the team to so many victories while never once complaining about not getting as many shots as perhaps he would demand on a lesser team. With his next-level athletic abilities and his knack for finishing around the rim, Robinson has turned the heads of many scouts and faces a decision of whether to declare for the NBA Draft or return to Michigan to work toward completing some unfinished business with the rest of the team. No matter what he decides, Glenn Robinson III has already carved out a spot in the hearts of many Michigan fans after blossoming from a lowly-regarded high school player to a top player on one of the best college teams in the country.

Eso Akunne never played much, but got to enjoy a trip to the finals (detroitnews.com)

Meet Mitch McGary, the freshman big man and ball of energy. After committing to play for Michigan as the second-highest rated high schooler in the country, McGary was expected to star right off the bat, but his learning curve was a little slow. Alas, the 20-year-old struggled academically at his four-year high school in Chesterton, Indiana before transferring far away from home to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire before getting his grades in order and refining his basketball game. With time, McGary’s conditioning and overall game improved slowly but surely at Michigan; his energy, on the other hand, has never lacked. As the NCAA Tournament finally rolled around, McGary’s star started to shine bright on the national stage, as he poured in double digit points in five of Michigan’s six games, including a new career high in consecutive games over VCU and Kansas, and recorded double-doubles over the same stretch before slightly struggling to reach the same level in the championship game, where he was hampered with four fouls. McGary, who now finds himself on draft boards with these renewed looks, has a decision to make much like his roommate Robinson’s. If he stays, McGary is seen as a potentially dominant animal in the post, a guy who could conceivably average a double-double, expand his game, and lead Michigan back to the promised land. If he goes, McGary will be seen as a Wolverine whose love of Michigan and passion for tough play have already ingratiated him in the hearts of all Michigan fans.

Meet Tim Hardaway, Jr., the son of NBA legend Tim Hardaway. The junior and second-leading scorer of this Michigan team bounced back from a tough year last year to become a scoring force on offense, a solid defender, and a player who could turn the course of a game with a huge dunk or a streak of three-pointers. Despite some difficult games here and there, Hardaway always seemed to be a steadying force and the seasoned veteran within a lineup full of underclassmen, scoring 10 or more points in all but eight games this year. As a freshman, Hardaway championed Michigan back to the NCAA Tournament after the Wolverines had struggled to a 15-17 mark the year prior to his arrival, and despite his tough shooting year last season, Hardaway has always been a great scorer and a phenomenal team player. Many expect him to forego his last year of eligibility and follow in his dad’s footsteps to the NBA; regardless of what he does, however, Hardaway’s three years so far will never be forgotten, and performances like his 23-point night to beat Ohio State in overtime this season will go down in Michigan history.

Blake McLimans was an important senior leader this season (annarbor.com)

Meet Trey Burke, the one-time no-name prospect and Penn State commit out of Columbus, Ohio. A high school teammate of former Buckeye Jared Sullinger, Burke had always dreamed of playing for Ohio State, but when he was shunned by Thad Matta, he decided to take his talents north and play for John Beilein. Two short years later, Burke has become the best Michigan player in at least 20 years, gaining far too many accolades – including First Team All-American honors and Big Ten, Naismith, and Wooden Player of the Year awards – to list off at once. Last year, Burke’s out-of-nowhere freshman stardom nearly convinced him to take off for the pro ranks after just one season of college, but a talking to from his parents and thoughts of the promise of this year’s team led him back to Ann Arbor, where he put on a show for the ages. Night in and night out, Burke’s cool leadership from the point guard spot led Beilein’s team, and his exceptional team play, his caring for his fellow Wolverines, always stood out to those on-lookers. In retrospect, he was without a doubt the best player on the court every time he suited up for Michigan, and his number will one day hang from the rafters of the Crisler Center. Trey, just like his teammates, was always quick to praise teammates for Michigan’s success, even though it was clear that he was the biggest reason for it. So many of his performances are unforgettable, both for Michigan fans and college basketball fans in general, and his ball-handling prowess, passing, and scoring ability will perhaps never again be matched by a Michigan player. In what will almost certainly be his final collegiate game, Trey Burke again showed why he will always be loved by Michigan fans, scoring 24 points, grabbing four rebounds, and dishing out three assists while his slight 6’0″ frame took a constant beating from the physical Louisville front line. It wasn’t enough, but, like usual, it was more than what could have ever been asked of him.

Meet the 2012-13 Michigan basketball team. In the end, these 15 young men came up just short of the finish line, losing 82-76 in the National Championship after an improbable run through five rounds of the Big Dance. Much like the teams of the early 1990s, they couldn’t match Michigan’s one national title from 1989, and they will not go down in history as the best team in the country in 2013. But they will forever hold a special place in the hearts of all Michigan fans, and rightfully so. Though the last game may have said otherwise, these Wolverines always have been, and always will be, winners in our hearts.

McLimans, Person, Burke, Bartelstein, Hardaway, Morgan and the rest of Team 96 made it to the NCAA Championship game

Michigan vs Cleveland State quick thoughts

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012


After another dominant performance in last night’s NIT Preseason opener over IUPUI, Michigan will face a Cleveland State team tonight (8pm on ESPN2) that has made a name for itself as a mid-major that no one wants to play in the non-conference season. The Vikings lost four starters and looked pretty shaky in an overtime win over Bowling Green, but they will certainly play their hearts out as they face the No. 5 team in the country. Here are a few things to mull as the game approaches:

Glenn Robinson III has made 81.2 percent of his attempts so far (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)

  1. Turnovers: Everyone knows by now that John Beilein stresses an approach that maximizes possessions by limiting turnovers, thus giving his team more chances to put points on the board. In last night’s blowout of the Jaguars, Michigan again seemed a little bit anxious and turned the ball over 13 times while putting up only 55 shots. Beilein will generally tell people that a single-digit turnover number is acceptable, but anything over 10 is dangerous when playing a quality opponent. Not only should Cleveland State be a decent opponent tonight, though – they also pride themselves on wreaking havoc on the opposing offense by pressuring the ball and using active hands in passing lands to create turnovers and limit the other team’s opportunities. In two games so far, the Vikings have forced 31 turnovers, a tremendous number, and while those opponents were Grambling State and Bowling Green, Michigan has yet to prove that they will value the rock like a top-five team. Trey Burke has already turned the ball over eight times in two games and backup Spike Albrecht looked hesitant at times in last night’s game when he faced three-quarter court pressure. Burke’s problems have come more in forcing passes and moving too fast than in his ball-handling, so I don’t expect major problems with him in the turnover department tonight, but Albrecht lacks the quickness and the first speed that Burke can use at will to get by his defender. Trey may see himself playing 35-plus minutes tonight if Beilein senses problems early.
  1. Taking Advantage of Aggressiveness: We now know that Cleveland State will do all it can to limit Michigan’s shot attempts by pressuring the ball, but how can the Wolverines take advantage of that? The answer is easy – play smart, fundamental basketball. A team that pressures the ball will frequently give up open passing lanes and driving lanes to the hoop by being too aggressive, and when Burke is able to get into an open lane, there is not a team in the country that will be able to stop one of his drives or a kick-outs to the plethora of good shooters this Michigan team looks to have. In last night’s narrow win over the Falcons, Cleveland State gave up alley-oops on three straight possessions late in the game, partially because of their aggressiveness. And while A’uston Calhoun looked very good for Bowling Green, he certainly does not have the hops of a Glenn Robinson III or Tim Hardaway, Jr., who have both sent home some powerful dunks already in this young season. Burke should come close to tying his career-high nine assists for a second straight night and Nik Stauskas, Matt Vogrich, and the rest of the shooters should see plenty of open shots on the wings.

    Cleveland State forced a lot of turnovers, so Burke will need to stay under control (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)

  1. Balance: One more thing Michigan and Beilein will have to prepare for tonight is defending a balanced attack. It’s pretty easy to game plan against teams that have one or two star players taking the majority of shots on offense, but it’s very difficult to stop a team that can look to five or six different players to make shots. All five of Cleveland State’s starters have been in double digits in their first two games of the season, both wins, and freshman Bryn Forbes (Lansing Sexton) came off the bench in the first game to score 14 points. Seventh-year head coach Gary Waters will again look for his whole team to contribute tonight in an effort to take down the Wolverines, and though Michigan has the strength and depth to have a balanced offense as well, Beilein will focus on the defensive end of the court in stopping Cleveland State. Forward Tim Kamczyc has been hot so far from downtown, shooting a combined 7-of-12 from downtown in two games, but he appeared a little streaky last night. The rest of the team won’t take a ton of deep looks, so Michigan’s interior defense will be critical to their success.

Prediction: Matt Vogrich will be the team’s leading three-point shooter tonight and Michigan will again run away in the first half from an inexperienced and overwhelmed Viking team on their way to Madison Square Garden. Cleveland State should hang tough for a half or so, but the Wolverines’ firepower will prove to be too much in the end. Hardaway, Jr. will lead the team in scoring as Michigan rolls, 86-61.

Michigan vs Saginaw Valley State quick thoughts

Monday, November 5th, 2012


Michigan’s second and final exhibition matchup comes tonight at the Crisler Center against the Cardinals of Saginaw Valley State. Here are three things to watch for as the season nears:

Trey Burke will see his first game action of the season tonight

  1. Rotation: Trey Burke will be back in the lineup tonight after serving a one-game suspension last Thursday for a violation of team rules and will certainly be starting over Spike Albrecht, whose play in the first exhibition game exceeded many observers’ expectations. Because this game doesn’t count in the record books, Beilein will probably try to get Albrecht some quality minutes again to prepare him for the regular season, but I wouldn’t expect more than 15-20. Burke needs to get minutes against a different opponent with his teammates both new and old to develop the chemistry that all great teams have. Watch for Beilein to play Burke, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary together on the court for long periods of time. Also pay close attention to the rotation at the two-guard spot. I expect Matt Vogrich to start again, but Nik Stauskas’s play has certainly spoken volumes, and a bigger lineup would likely see Tim Hardaway, Jr. slide down to the shooting guard spot.
  1. Shooting: The Wolverines, and notably the freshmen, got off to a hot start against Northern Michigan with their three-point shooting in particular, as Spike Albrecht, Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III combined to go 9-for-15 from behind the arc. Was this just a case of getting hot at the right time or will these freshmen continue to light it up from deep? Only time will tell, but with each passing game it will become more evident. Pay special attention to Vogrich, who struggled shooting the deep ball Thursday, going 0-for-4 from three-point land. If Stauskas continues to outshoot him, Beilein may shuffle up the lineup sooner than I thought.
  1. Defense: With the potential to play a bigger lineup this year, Michigan has some options on both ends of the court, and many expect to see significantly more zone defense being deployed by Beilein when a bigger squad is on the floor. Against Northern Michigan the Wolverines went to the 2-3 zone for a short stretch in the second half, but there wasn’t a whole lot more than that. Watch tonight to see if Beilein mixes up the calls a little bit more on the defensive end, and if so, which zones he plays. The 2-3 will likely be the most utilized zone defense we see this season, but Beilein always has the 1-3-1 in his back pocket as well, and with more length and athleticism, Michigan could be deadly in spurts by switching to the 1-3-1 at times. It certainly won’t be used often, but I think we will see it more than we have over the past couple of years.

2012-13 Michigan basketball player preview: Matt Vogrich

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012


Now that we have previewed the entire freshman class, we will begin looking at Michigan’s returning players starting today with senior Matt Vogrich.

Matt Vogrich

Number: 13
Class: Senior
Major Business
Measurements:

6’4″, 200 pounds

Hometown: Lake Forest, Ill.
High School: Lake Forest High School
Position(s): Shooting Guard, Small Forward
Career Stats:

PTS REB AST STL TO MIN FG% 3PT% FT%
2009-10: 1.5 0.6 0.3 0.3 0.3 5.5 40.5 39.3 33.3
2010-11: 3.2 1.6 0.4 0.3 0.4 14.0 42.9 38.7 66.7
2011-12: 2.3 1.3 0.4 0.4 0.3 10.7 38.2 30.2 66.7
Career Avg: 2.4 1.2 0.4 0.3 0.3 10.3 40.7 35.7 61.9

Career Highs: Points – 15, Rebounds – 6, Assists – 2 (4 times), Steals – 2 (3 times), Minutes – 23

Career to Date: Matt Vogrich came to Michigan after winning the Gatorade Player of the Year for Illinois in his senior year at Lake Forest High School, having broken former Wolverine Rob Pelinka’s school scoring record with 1,494 career points. He was touted by many as the best pure shooter in his high school class, but was also known as more than just that; he made headlines after competing with now-Illinois guard Brandon Paul in a head-to-head matchup and out-scoring him with all sorts of moves.

Nevertheless, Vogrich’s perceived place under John Beilein was to be a dead-eye shooter that would be deadly in Beilein’s offensive system. The first time he stepped on the court in a regular season game, Michigan fans’ collective jaws dropped to the floor as Vogrich put on a shooting display unlike anything seen before, going 5-of-5 from downtown to score 15 points in 13 minutes in a 97-50 blowout of Northern Michigan. A true shooter had been found. Beilein’s offense would flourish.

Vogrich has proven to be a good outside shooter

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last. Vogrich made only one of his next 15 attempts from behind the arc over a nine-game period and only six more total over the remainder of the season. Obviously his minutes were severely limited, and he did bounce back to shoot nearly 40 percent from three by the end of his freshman season, but he still has not emerged as that go-to shooter that Beilein can count on to consistently bury two or more threes per game.

With his senior season left, Vogrich has just one more year to leave his mark on the program. Will he become the sharpshooter that everyone saw three years ago coming into college, the guy that is looked to at the end of games to drain the three, or will his shooting percentages continue to drop as his minutes dwindle and Nik Stauskas takes over his spot in the line-up? All we can do is wait and see.

What He Will Provide:

  1. 1. Shooting: The scrawny shooter clearly has the pretty stroke to provide a scoring spark, whether that be from the starting five or from the bench. When Vogrich is feeling it from downtown, there are few shooters in the country that will make a higher clip of their deep shots. The rotation on his ball is a thing of beauty when his shot is on, and he can throw daggers left and right with his quick release.
  2. 2. Leadership: While Vogrich has never been an extremely vocal player on or off the court, he is perhaps the most experienced on the team, and at 22 years of age, Vogrich will need to help mentor his younger teammates and make sure that everyone is on the same page, even if he isn’t playing a ton of minutes. Beilein and the rest of the team will look to Vogrich and the rest of the seniors to help replace the leadership lost last season in the form of Stu Douglass and Zack Novak.
  3. 3. Hustle and Smarts: Zack Novak always got the credit for being the junkyard dog the past four years, and deservedly so. But when Matt Vogrich finds his inner energetic spark, he can turn heads himself with some “That was Matt Vogrich?!?!” plays. He is not a terrific athlete and certainly isn’t very fast, but Vogrich always seems to have a couple big plays every now and again that completely turn the tide of a close game, whether in grabbing a big rebound among the trees down low, poking a ball out from behind when least expected, or making a backdoor cut for an easy lay-in.

What He Will Have to Improve On:

  1. 1. Defense: The one player that has come the farthest in the last three years on the defensive end of the court? Matt Vogrich. The one player that has the farthest to go in improving on the defensive end of the court? Matt Vogrich. The first time Vogrich suited up in a Michigan uniform, in an exhibition game against Wayne State, Vogrich was crossed over and ended up on his rear out of bounds, resulting in both “oohs” and “ughs” in the stands. Since then, Vogrich has certainly improved on that end of the floor, but he still has a ways to go. Stu Douglass was one of the better man defenders in the Big Ten over the past couple years, and Vogrich will at least have to hold his own one-on-one against quick guards if he is to see consistent playing time.

    The senior will need to continue to improve his defense

  2. 2. Handles: In high school, Vogrich was more of an all-around scorer than the stand-still shooter he often turns into on the court at Michigan. If Vogrich can improve his ball-handling, gain some confidence, and drive to the hole on occasion, he would help immensely. He often looks hesitant to put the ball on the floor even when he has a clear driving lane, but a couple quick dribbles to the hoop could collapse the defense or draw a trip to the charity stripe, which has been a foreign concept to Vogrich. In three seasons, Vogrich has shot only 21 free throws compared to 209 field goal attempts, good for an absolutely abysmal free throw rate of 10 percent. A reasonable jump up to 20-25 percent could do wonders.   
  3. 3. Consistent Production: Want an interesting, and somewhat disappointing, stat? Matt Vogrich has never made at least one three-pointer in more than three consecutive games, and has only done that two times (both in his sophomore season). His best three-game stretch was going 5-for-6 in the non-conference season in 2010, and he has never made more than five threes over a three-game stretch, having done that just twice. Granted, this probably has something to do with limited minutes and inconsistent playing time from game to game, but Vogrich needs to prove that he deserves those minutes by scoring consistently before Beilein can give him the court time.

Burning Question: Will Matt Vogrich start?

There are a couple factors that go into this question, but it needs to be asked. Vogrich has never started a game in his career, but with the graduation of Douglass and Novak, two starting spots open up. One of those spots probably already has Tre Robinson marked on it in permanent marker, but the other is likely up for grabs among Matt Vogrich, Nik Stauskas, Jon Horford and Mitch McGary. Obviously if Beilein feels a two-big lineup gives Michigan the best chance to win then McGary or Horford will get that spot, but if he chooses to play small, Vogrich will need to prove that he deserves the spot over a threatening freshman. Keep in mind that the line-up will most likely change once or twice before Beilein settles on one for the majority of the season, but the opportunity is there for Vogrich. Will he seize it or let it slip?

Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Penn State – averages 3.3 points (6-of-14 FG, 5-of-12 3PFG. 3-of-3 FT), 1.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.2 turnovers, 12 minutes per game

Going Forward: I actually have Matt Vogrich pegged into the starting two-guard spot at least to begin the season. Beilein has shown a propensity to play experienced players over freshmen early on and will likely put out his safest five at the start of the year. By the time Big Ten season rolls around I think we will have transitioned to a two-big starting lineup, but Beilein has never played that style before and will require some time to adjust to its quirks.

Stat Predictions: 4.3 points (44 FG%, 41.3 3-PT%), 1.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals in 13 minutes per game.

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.

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.

Michigan Basketball Preview: Harris, Sims Look to Lead Wolverines to Big Ten Title

Thursday, November 5th, 2009


With the football team entering the last month of the season, Michigan’s basketball team takes the court in Friday’s exhibition with Wayne State looking to be the toast of Ann Arbor for the second straight year.

*Junior guard Manny Harris hopes to lead Michigan to a Big Ten title

*Junior guard Manny Harris hopes to lead Michigan to a Big Ten title

Michigan basketball has enjoyed success over much of its history and won a National Championship in 1989, but has still always been considered second-rate on campus behind the boys on the gridiron.

But with the recent growing pains of the football program, the rejuvenated basketball program in its third year under head coach John Beilein, enters the season with high expectations. Michigan ranks 15th in the preseason Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, the first time in 12 years it enters the season ranked.

And for the first time in recent history, Michigan fans look forward to the end of football season and the beginning of basketball season.

With a 22-14 record last year, and a return to the NCAA Basketball tournament for the first time in 11 years, a pair of John Wooden All-American candidates and another year of experience for last year’s youth should help the squad challenge for the Big Ten title.

The team:

Guard Manny Harris is the star after leading Michigan in scoring (16.9), rebounding (6.8), assists (4.4), steals (1.2), minutes (32.9) and free-throw percentage (86.3 percent) last season as a sophomore.

The junior from Detroit opted to forego the NBA Draft and return to help Michigan build upon its success.

Harris was named to the 2009-10 Naismith Preseason Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year Watch List in addition to being a candidate for the John Wooden Player of the Year award.

Senior forward DeShawn Sims led the team in blocks (27) and field goal percentage (50.5) and was second on the team behind Harris in points (15.4), rebounds (6.8), steals (1.1) and minutes (30.7) last season.

A true team player, Sims has embodied Beilein’s unselfish system, coming off the bench for nine of Michigan’s games last season, yet still earning All-Big Ten Second Team honors.

Sophomores Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Laval Lucas-Perry give the backcourt experienced returning talent.

Novak was Michigan’s best three-point shooter last season at 34.4 percent and had perhaps his biggest game in leading Michigan to an upset over No. 4 Duke.

Lucas-Perry also shot 34.4 percent from downtown, though on about half as many attempts as Harris and Novak. Lucas-Perry gives Michigan size and quickness at the guard position.

Douglass is a slightly smaller version of Novak, a streaky sharpshooter who averaged 6.1 points per game last season.

Another wing player with a lot of experience is redshirt junior forward Anthony Wright. While his numbers won’t blow anyone away (he averaged just 2.7 points per game last season), Wright came up big in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 14 points against Oklahoma. His experience should pay off this season.

Senior center Zack Gibson returns to fill the middle. The 6-10 forward averaged 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds a year ago and gives Michigan a big man that can occasionally step out and hit the three, although not as well as he seems to think he can. Michigan fans would prefer him to stay inside.

The Newcomers
Darius Morris Eso Akunne Matt Vogrich Josh Bartelstein Blake McLimans Jordan Morgan
DariusMorris EsoAkunne MattVogrich JoshBartelstein BlakeMcLimans JordanMorgan
4 5 13 20 22 52
PG G G G F F
6-4 6-3 6-4 6-3 610 6-8
180 220 180 190 220 240
Los Angeles, Calif. Ann Arbor, Mich. Lake Forest, Ill. Highland Park, Ill. Hamburg, N.Y. Detroit, Mich.
Windward Gabriel Richard Lake Forest Phillips Exeter Academy Worcester Academy Univ. of Detroit Jesuit

Newcomers Darius Morris, Matt Vogrich, Blake McLimans and Jordan Morgan more than make up for the players Michigan lost to graduation (C.J. Lee, Jevohn Shepherd and David Merritt).

Morris is a hotshot point guard recruit out of Los Angeles, Calif. He averaged 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists and was named the John Wooden State Player of the Year as a senior.

Vogrich is another sharpshooter that fits the mold of Beilein’s program perfectly. A 6-4 guard, Vogrich averaged 16.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists in earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Illinois.

Morgan and McLimans give Beilein a pair of big guys to bolster Michigan’s frontcourt.

Morgan averaged 14.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. He was named to the Detroit Free Press Class A All-State third team as a senior.

McLimans, at 6-10, 220 gives Michigan a much-needed body on the inside. He is somewhat unknown since he didn’t play AAU ball, but appears to be the versatile-type big man Beilein prefers with the ability to shoot from the outside.

Another player that could play a role is sophomore center Ben Cronin. At 7-0, 265, Cronin is the biggest player on the roster and runs the court well for a big guy. If he can stay healthy (he had hip surgery on Jan. 14), Cronin will be a big help, especially once the physical play of the Big Ten season begins.

The schedule:

The schedule stacks up slightly tougher than in recent years and should provide a good barometer of how good this Michigan team really is.

Creighton, Marquette, Xavier, and Florida State all await Michigan early on in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.

In this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Michigan hosts Boston College on Dec. 2, a team that needs to find its identity after losing Tyrese Rice. This should be Michigan’s first win in the challenge since beating Miami in 2005.

Games to Watch
Date Team Rank Location Time TV
Thu. Nov. 26 Creighton Orlando, Fla. 12 p.m. ESPN2
Sat. Dec. 19 Kansas 1 Lawrence, Kan. 1 p.m. ESPN
Sun. Jan. 17 Connecticut 12 Ann Arbor, Mich. TBA CBS
Sat. Jan. 23 Purdue 7 West Lafayette, Ind. 4 p.m. ESPN
Tue. Jan. 26 Michigan State 2 Ann Arbor, Mich. 7 p.m. ESPN
Sat. Feb. 27 Ohio State 16 Columbus, Ohio TBA ESPN or BTN

Michigan also travels to Utah and Kansas before beginning the Big Ten portion of the schedule, and hosts No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 17.

Last season, Michigan put up a good fight against Connecticut, losing by just eight on the road after leading 34-33 at halftime. This year, Michigan gets the Huskies at home, where it upset No. 4 Duke a year ago.

Once the Big Ten season starts, the schedule doesn’t get any easier.

Rival Michigan State ranks 2nd in the nation after falling to North Carolina in the national championship game last March, and features the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, Kalin Lucas.

Purdue will also be a formidable opponent as the Boilermakers enter the season ranked 7th in the nation. A Sweet Sixteen team a year ago, Purdue is led by versatile 6-8 forward Robbie Hummel, who averaged 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season.

Ohio State comes in at No. 16 in the nation, and looks to absolve its early exit from last season’s NCAA Tournament. Jon Diebler, Evan Turner, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale return to give Ohio State experienced talent all over the court.

Illinois and Minnesota also enter the season in the Top 25, at 23rd and 25th, respectively. Both are very well coached teams that fared well last season. Illinois has to find leadership to replace point guard Chester Frazier and shooting guard Trent Meacham, while Minnesota brought in a highly regarded recruiting class to complement seniors Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson.

Outlook:

Last year’s team lived and died on two things: three-pointers and free throws.

In 22 wins, Michigan shot 36.8 percent from downtown and 76.7 percent from the free throw line, while getting to the line 19 times per game.

*Senior DeShawn Sims averaged 15.4 points and 6.8 rebouds per game last season

*Senior DeShawn Sims averaged 15.4 points and 6.8 rebouds per game last season

In 14 losses, Michigan shot just 29.5 percent from three and 72.7 percent from the foul line, while getting to the line just under 12 times per game.

The ability to knock down the three and get to the free throw line is key for Michigan since its strength is in the backcourt.

Harris is at his best when he’s driving to the basket, picking up fouls. He shot 204 free throws last year, making 176 of them. That’s nearly twice as many made free throws as the next closest player, DeShawn Sims, had attempts (93).

The guys that accounted for many of the three-point attempts, Novak, Douglass, and Lucas-Perry (43 percent combined) were freshmen last season, which according to the Big Ten Geeks is good news for this season.

Their research shows that college basketball players make their most improvement from their freshman to sophomore seasons.

If that holds true, and if freshman Darius Morris can perform adequately at point guard, Michigan should be in for another good season.

Making the NCAA Tournament should not be the goal for this year’s team, as it should be a virtual lock. Challenging for the Big Ten title should be.

While Michigan has the ability to beat anyone in the nation on any given night, it must prove it can win on the road.

I predict a 21-9 season (12-6 in the Big Ten) with splits against Ohio State, Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and losing both games to Michigan State and out-of conference losses to Utah, Kansas, and one of the games in the Old Spice Classic.

Obviously I hope it’s better than this, but I prefer to lean toward the safe side, due to still having a lot of youth in the backcourt and no proven inside presence. That way I can be pleasantly surprised if the team overachieves.

A return trip to the NCAA Tournament as a mid seed and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen should be considered a realistic goal for this team.

All-in-all, it should be an exciting season for Michigan basketball.