The Michigan Wolverines basketball team has come a long way since last year’s dismal performances, where they won a total of 10 games. They are in a fight for a post-season tourney berth.
After a 13-3 start that included wins over UCLA and Duke, the Wolverines are 7-8 in the conference and just 17-11 overall. They suffered a big overtime loss at Iowa earlier this week and will have to win at least two of their final three games (Purdue, @ Wisconsin, @ Minnesota) and notch a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament to go dancing.
Michigan is an awesome home team, posting a 13-3 record inside the friendly confines of Crisler Arena. They also are a very good three-point shooting team, and when they are hitting their shots they are very tough to beat. Their defense, a 1-3-1 scheme, can also be menacing to their opponents but seems to ebb and flow with the offense. Manny Harris is a star, and when he plays up to his ability, he can take games over.
Inconsistency is the biggest weakness, as illustrated by leading scorer Manny Harris’ stat line. The star sophomore guard is averaging 16.9 points per game but has disappeared at times, including key losses against Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State, and Iowa.
Over the past few weeks (since a loss to Ohio State where he posted 21 points), Harris has had six games with less than 10 points, four of them losses. and most recently was held out of the entire overtime period in a loss to Iowa. Coach Beilein has indicated that Harris wasn’t playing well and wasn’t fresh as the reason he was held out, but it isn’t often that your star player doesn’t play one minute in a key overtime period when you are trying to secure a tourney bid.
The team is only 2-7 on the road (2-1 on neutral floor), and has struggled in Big Ten play.
Poor rebounding and the lack of a legitimate post presence also hurts them, particularly in conference play when going up against teams with legit big men. DeShawn Sims is a terrific athlete and player, but at 6’ 8”, he doesn’t offer much in the way of post presence. Zach Gibson, who is 6’ 10”, flashes some ability but typically on the offensive end. He doesn’t rebound or defend the post particularly well.
Tourney hopes and potential
Michigan has key games coming up, starting Thursday night on a nationally-televised game against Purdue (ESPN, 9 P.M.). The Wolverines are in must-win mode from here on out and could surprise some people if the make the dance. They are a streaky team that can easily rip off four wins when they are shooting the ball well and getting after it on the defensive end.
They have two legitimate NBA prospects in Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims as well as some sweet shooting youngsters in Stu Douglass, Zach Novak, and Laval Lucas-Perry. Point guard Kelvin Grady is inconsistent and prone to errors on the defensive end, but is lightning-quick and can beat anyone in America off the dribble.
As they have proved already this year, with wins against Top Five teams Duke and UCLA and tough losses against UConn and Michigan State, they can play with and beat anyone in the country on a given night. If they make the tourney, I wouldn’t want to be the team playing them in the opening round.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, the team and university have a lot to be proud of. They rebounded from a terrible season in 2007-2008, cracked the Top 25 for the first time in a nearly a decade, and showed that they are going to be a contender in the Big Ten under John Beilein.
A solid recruiting class in 2008, which produced three contributors in Novak, Douglass, and Arizona transfer Lucas-Perry, along with 7-footer Ben Cronin who red-shirted, gave the Wolverines some pieces to build around Harris and Sims.
Michigan will only lose three players to graduation: Jevohn Shepherd, C.J. Lee, and David Merritt. They are all contributors but are key players in terms of production.
Michigan has had an opportunity to play well while identifying its weaknesses and trying to address them in the 2009 recruiting class.
By most accounts, the incoming class of Darius Morris, Matt Vogrich, Blake McLimans, and Jordan Morgan is the best class Michigan has signed since the 2003 class of Courtney Sims, Brent Petway, and Dion Harris.
Morris will compete with Grady and Douglass for the point guard position, while Vogrich will likely see time at the two and three slot, spelling Harris and Novak respectively. McLimans and Morgan will certainly be in the mix at the four, with DeShawn Sims and Zach Gibson. Gibson will likely share time at the five with red-shirt freshman Ben Cronin.
Projected Depth Chart
PG Grady (JR), Douglass (SO), Morris (FR)
SG Harris (JR), Lucas-Perry (SO), Vogrich (FR)
SF Novak (SO), Wright (JR), McLimans (FR)
PF Sims (SR), Morgan (FR), Pujs (SO)
C Gibson (SR), Cronin (FR)
Below is a quick profile of the incoming class:
Matt Vogrich: 6’ 4”, 190 lbs.
Scout.com 4* #19 SG ESPN grade: 89
A John Beilein dream. Vogrich can flat out shoot the rock. He fits in well because he isn’t afraid to shoot when open, but also knows how to find teammates for easy baskets. Very good off of the pick and roll and can score in a variety of ways. Will need to get stronger and play better defense in the Big 10.
Darius Morris: 6’ 4”, 190 lbs.
Scout.com 3* #15 PG ESPN grade: 89
Rangy point guard with excellent size for the position. Struggles at times with turnovers and will need to improve in that area, but has a nice shooting touch and can get to the basket. Excellent potential.
Jordan Morgan: 6’ 8”, 245 lbs.
Scout.com 3* #27 C/PF ESPN grade: 75
Raw physical specimen with good size who can run and jump well. Intelligent player who has room to grow. Averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game while being the focus of the opposition's defense. Decent shooter but makes his living in the paint. Working to improve his jumper to bring his range out from 12-14 to 16-18 feet. Has a nice repertoire of post moves, including a jump hook with his right and left hand. Solid rebounder.
Blake McLimans: 6’ 10”, 210 lbs.
Scout.com 3* N/A PF (prep school) ESPN grade: 85
Talented big in the mold of former Beilein pupil Joe Alexander. McLimans is very lean and thin and therefore doesn’t have a great post-up game, but he can be dangerous in the high post. Very good range for a guy his size and can stretch defenses. Will need to get stronger in college and could develop into a good rebounder and defender, but right now is only average in those departments.