The trajectory of the Michigan basketball program is far less defined entering the 2010-2011 campaign compared to a season ago.
Last fall, the Wolverines were a consensus preseason top 15 team that returned two of the league’s top players — guard Manny Harris and forward DeShawn Sims. But when the smoke cleared, Michigan finished with a disappointing 15-17 record and failed to reach a postseason tournament.
It was a significant step back for a program that reached the second round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament and seemed to be headed in the right direction.
So what are we to expect of this year’s version of the Michigan Wolverines? Another season of struggle in what will be John Beilein’s fourth season in Ann Arbor.
Three of Beilein’s top five scorers from last season — Harris (NBA), Sims (graduation) and Laval Lucas-Perry (violation of team rules) — are gone. Juniors Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, who would both be considered solid role guys under different circumstances, are Beilein’s top two returning pieces.
This means Michigan will rely, mostly out of necessity, on newcomers Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. for immediate contributions. Smotrycz, a top 60 recruit according to Rivals, is a 6-9 forward that loves to shoot from the perimeter but also possesses the ability to put the ball on the floor. Hardaway Jr, son of the former NBA great Tim Hardaway (UTEP Two-Step!), can reportedly fill it up from the perimeter and also knock down pull-up jump shots. Sophomore point guard Darius Morris, who started 19 games as a freshman, will also be relied on heavily.
Bottom Line: Michigan is a team that will struggle mightily to score points in the paint and when shots aren’t falling from the perimeter, will be in a lot of trouble. This will be true particularly in Big Ten play, where the Wolverines are projected by most to finish 10th in the conference. It’s probably a bit early to begin talking hot seat for Beilein, but Michigan fans will definitely be looking for signs of progress after the disappointment of the 2009-2010 season.
Quotable: “And one final point that I’d like to make is when you look at Michigan, and when you look at what John Beilein has done over his career and you look at his winning percentage over his career, the man is an incredible coach. This goes back to my days in the Big East and it certainly is now. There might be some preparations that are as hard, but there are none that are harder than getting ready for a John Beilein coached team, and I think it’s just a matter of time before that program is back where it needs to be.” – Tom Crean on Michigan and Beilein at Big Ten Media Day