Know Thy Opponent: Michigan Wolverines

  • 12/29/2009 12:52 pm in

Rather than the traditional Know Thy Opponent format, where I attempt to sound intelligent discussing a team besides Indiana, today we’ve reached out to Dylan over at the excellent Michigan hoops blog, UMHoops, for the scoop on the Wolverines. Our e-mail Q & A exchange is posted below for your reading pleasure. (I answered questions over at UMHoops at this link.)

Michigan was ranked No. 15 in the preseason in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll. Looking back on that, was the ranking too high or has this team just not lived up to its capabilities?

It sounds like a cop out, but it’s almost certainly a mix of both. Michigan wasn’t the 15th best team in the country. They were a 2nd round NCAA tournament team that finished .500 in conference play and snuck into the NCAA tournament. However, their youth last year coupled with John Beilein’s coaching pedigree gave folks reason to overestimate their abilities.

That being said, this team wasn’t supposed to be this bad. The biggest problem is that they just can’t hit shots. They are shooting 28.3 percent from three-point range which ranks last among all major-conference teams. It’s tough to win with any offense when you can’t hit shots but when you are undersized and running John Beilein’s offense, it’s almost impossible.

Statistically speaking, Michigan is relying heavily on Manny Harris and DeShawn SIms to carry the load. Tell us a little bit about how each of these guys has performed this season to-date. What is each doing well? And what could they improve upon?

Manny Harris is simply phenomenal. He does it all. His 20.1 points per game ranks first in the conference but he is also second in assists (5.1 per game) and third in rebounding (7.5 per game). It’s unlikely that his 20,7, and 5 stat line will keep up over conference play but there is no doubt that he is a complete player.

For DeShawn Sims the struggle has always been consistency. Half of the time DeShawn Sims looks like the best player on the court while the rest of the time he is nearly invisible. Michigan’s problem is that they need DeShawn Sims to round out their offense on the inside. Sims averages 20 points and 9 rebounds in Michigan victories compared to only 11.4 points and 5 rebounds in losses. This year it has become apparent that Michigan goes as DeShawn Sims goes.

Beyond Harris and Sims, it’s obvious John Beilien is going to need more production from the supporting cast. Who emerges are Michigan’s third option from this group: Laval Lucas-Perry, Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Zack Gibson? Pomeroy’s numbers seem to suggest that Gibson’s play warrants more minutes.

This is the magic question. Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Laval Lucas-Perry all gave Michigan a huge lift at one time or another last year but no one has developed into a consistent scoring option.

Indiana fans probably remember Laval Lucas-Perry’s three-point barrage that sent last year’s game into overtime but at this point he appears to be a streaky shooter at best. Despite his size, Laval is more of an off-guard due to his shaky handle, but he has proven capable of getting hot from three-point range.

Indiana native Zack Novak plays the four position for Michigan despite his 6-foot-5 listed height. His problem is that he simply hasn’t been able to put the ball in the hoop. Novak is shooting 15 percent from three-point range in the month of December and has only made one of his last 18 three-point attempts.

Stu Douglass is really the guy that Michigan needs to step up. He has emerged as the starting point guard and he finally put together a hot shooting performance versus Coppin State (6-10 three-point shooting for 20 points). He is sound with the ball and understands the offense well. If he is able to get hot it could be a huge boost for Michigan.

Finally there is Zack Gibson. Gibson played so well in limited playing time early on that I was calling for him to get more minutes. Since then he has done his best to prove me wrong, shooting 2 of 10 from the field over the last four games. Gibson has his moments but it is a stretch to expect him to become a major contributor.

Sitting at 6-5 entering the Big Ten schedule, what’s the outlook like for conference play? Is there still optimism Michigan could turn this around and make a run at the NCAA Tournament? Or are fans bracing themselves for the N.I.T.?

There is still a glimmer of hope. Michigan fans are hoping that Michigan can utilize their easier schedule to open Big Ten play (@ Indiana, Ohio State (sans Evan Turner),at Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana) to turn their season around a build momentum. The problem is that Michigan hasn’t beaten anyone this year (0-2 vs RPI Top 100) and on top of a hot start they probably need to beat UConn as well to even get back in the bubble picture. And if you are keeping score, Ken Pomeroy predicts that Michigan will lose four of those first four conference games.

Prediction for Thursday’s game?

I wasn’t confident in Michigan’s chances in Bloomington before Creek’s injury but now this is certainly a winnable game. That being said, as a Michigan fan I know that wins do not come easily at Assembly Hall no matter the situation. Last year one of Michigan’s best teams of the last decade barely escaped with an overtime win over one of Indiana’s worst. This year I would expect nothing but a close game but I think that Creek’s injury allows Michigan to sneak away with a five-point win.

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