Sunday, November 29th, 2009...11:47 pm

The Year of the Wolverine? (College Hoops)

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I’m a college basketball junkie. As I write this I’m watching West Virginia play Portland on ESPN2 in the final of a tournament called the 76 Classic. If you inquire as to what I did over the Thanksgiving break, the true answer would be that I watched college basketball. I spent most of my waking time with Fran Fraschilla, Doug Gottlieb, Andy Katz, Steve Lavin, Jay Bilas, Digger and Dickey. I’ve probably logged 8-9 full games since checking out Duke play Arizona State at the Garden last Wednesday. This might weird people out since most are only vaguely aware that the college basketball season has already started. So instead I’ll probably just shrug my shoulders and mumble if asked about the break. But you now know that if they hooked up cathodes to my brain to monitor cranium activity, those mumbles are actually passionate college hoops soliloquies.

Coming into this season, I was excited as my two favorite teams (St. John’s and Michigan) both have their best outlook in years. I’ve been asked a lot about Michigan hoops (nobody seems to care about the Johnnies :-( so I figured I would send out some updates throughout the season.

The Wolverines looked great beating up on some random intramural type teams to start the season. But in their first real test, UM lost 2 of 3 games in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. After holding off Creighton in overtime, Michigan was soundly defeated by a more aggressive Marquette squad and then dropped a very win-able game against an Alabama team that has already lost to Cornell this season. That loss probably knocked them out of the Top 25. The non-conference schedule remains challenging with Boston College up next and road games at Utah and #1 Kansas later in the month. The Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences this year. MSU, Purdue and Ohio State could all be top 10 teams and Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois are legit tourney teams.

It’s going to be tough for Michigan to win twenty games. Last Year they went 19-12 in the regular season and were .500 in conference. That was good enough for a #10 seed in the big dance. I was hoping Michigan would hover around the top 15 all season and be able to get a top #4 seed come March but after this weekend that looks a bit overly optimistic.

Corperryale “Manny” Harris is one of the best college basketball players in the country. After five games, he’s averaging over 20 point, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Those are ridiculous stats in college ball. He can seemingly score at will when he drives to the basket. The only knock against him is that he’s an atrocious 3-24 from long range this year. Harris isn’t a great 3 point shooter, but needs to improve enough to keep the defense honest. He’s fun to watch play, and it would be even better if he was more aggressive.

The other major scoring option besides Harris is Deshawn Simms. Simms is a small forward who needs to play both power forward and center for Michigan to be successful. This is actually possible as Simms inside game is capable. But too often, he drifts out to the perimeter and disappears for large stretches of games. Simms needs to be an inside presence and put up at least 16 and 9 regularly for Michigan to be a contender.

Darius Morris looks good at the point, but still is a freshman who probably has no clue on how to get to Kerrytown, North Campus or Showcase Cinemas. Besides having a decent handle, he’s long and athletic and fits well in their 1-3-1 trap defense. Zach Gibson needs to step up and play a bigger role as he’s the only guy on the team who can block a shot or bang around inside.

The rest of the team is basically a collection of combo guards who are expected to nail “Dom Bombs”. Unfortunately, this isn’t happening right now as UM was 9-45 from downtown in the two losses. Hopefully, LLP, Stu Douglass, Novak and Vogrich will soon find their shot (or at least a decent barber). If they don’t, they are basically worth as much as a few ski ball tickets at Pinball Pete’s.

Before this tournament, I was starting to tout the Wolverines as a Final Four team. After watching them, I’m going to pipe down on that prediction. I still believe they will better than they were last season and should be a sweet 16 team. That will only happen if they are able to do the following

Play Defense/Rebound
Neither Harris nor Simms are big on defense. Novak tries hard but is slow and undersized. The 1-3-1 that is Beilein’s staple doesn’t seem to be all that effective, tricky or successful so far this season. The trap also leaves the team in crappy position to rebound with a little guy close to the basket trying to block out bigger playeres. I don’t expect Michigan to win games on defense, but they need to be able to get a stop every now and then and force some turnovers that can lead to easy baskets.

3 Point Shooting
Michigan is probably going to shoot between 25-35 three’s each game. When they go in, it’s beautiful to watch. When they don’t, it seems impossible for them to score. Guys like Douglass, LLP and Novak need to be able to regularly hit the open shot.

Point Guard
LLP can barely dribble, so it really comes down to Morris and Douglass to play the point. I would love to see Morris develop here as it seems he has the ball handling and defense skills to have the most potential. The position isn’t that crucial, as Harris is the major playmaker and can also handle the ball. So basically the point just needs to turn the ball over at a rate below that of Tate Forcier. They struggled at this position last season with Merritt and Grady being liabilities. An upgrade seems necessary and likely.

Manny Fresh
Harris needs to carry the team on his back. He has to be the dude attempting to go coast to coast at the end of the Alabama game (Morris did and got swatted at the buzzer). Manny should also take at least 20 shots every game, while also helping rebound and creating open shots for the shooters. It’s a lot to ask, but Harris is that good. If he starts to hit his three point shot, he’ll be neck and neck with Evan Turner and Kalin Lucas for Big Ten player of the year and can even crack the All-American first team.

Right now, here’s what I’m going with. Leave your prediction as a comment.
Overall Record: 19 -11
Big Ten Record: 11-7
Big Ten Tournament: Lose in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament
NCAA Tournament: #6 seed and sweet 16