Monday, November 06, 2006

The Non-Preview Preview of Michigan Basketball

They done up and sucked at the end of last year and blew what should have been a guaranteed NCAA berth with an experienced and talented team. With it is gone any ounce of benefit of the doubt I had towards this team. From now on, they'll have to prove it on the court before I believe it. But I thought I should get to this preview before Big Ten Wonk, because I guarantee that his knowledge of some of the newcomers will be lacking and perhaps I could help out :)

So what to expect this year? Would it be wrong to say "the unexpected"? Let's first go back to last year. Courtesy of Big Ten Wonk's tempo free stats, you can find some interesting things. For one, Michigan was tied for being the 2nd most efficient offensive team in the conference last year at 1.06 points per possession. This unfortunately was offset by their tying for 2nd worst defense in the conference at 1.07 points allowed per possession to the opponents.

Michigan was efficient on offense? Say what? If you are like me, you remember Michigan turning the ball over with regularity for what seems like the 28th year in a row. It's true. They were the 2nd worst team in the Big Ten turning the ball over on a full 24.1% of possessions. But when they didn't turn it over, they were demons. Michigan was the 2nd best shooting team in the conference with an eFG% of 52.9% that was topped only by the deadly Buckeyes. They were also the best offensive rebounding team in the conference snagging nearly 37% of their own misses off the glass.

Yep, if Tommy's boys could've taken care of the rock last year they would've been one of the best offensive teams in the nation. That's the good news. The bad news is they did turn the ball over too much and they stunk on defense. Michigan used their crappy defense in terms of efficiency combined with the fastest pace in the conference to allow a league worst 71.1 points per game in Big Ten games. This offset their #2 scoring offense that scored 70.5 points per game.

So what did they lose from last year? Daniel Horton, Graham Brown, and Chris Hunter are out. Freshman Kendric Price (redshirt), Ekpe Udoh, K'len Morris, DeShawn Sims, and Reed Baker are in. Horton is the obvious big loss, but is it really that big? He came on last year as a more efficient scorer but still only ranked 15th in the conference in PPWS. He also offset his #4 in the conference ranking in assists per 100 possessions with the #5 worst rate of turnovers per 100 possessions. It was the story of Horton's career. A high volume shot taker that had a poor assist/to ratio for a point guard. He did some great things, but frequently was the end of a bad Michigan possession with a missed shot or a turnover. Brown and Hunter provided some size down low the last 4 years and Brown really came on as a rebounder leading the Big Ten in rebounding percentage last year snagging a full 18.8% of all available boards when he was in the game. Neither provided much offense and were merely adequate on the defensive end, buoyed mostly by rebounding.

And who's on the team this year? We'll start with the post players and move down to the guards.

Courtney Sims - he's a big body and he's been known as a soft player throughout his previous 3 years in Ann Arbor. He sometimes plays like a dominant college big man, but way too often is nowhere to be found when the going gets tough. But behind his reputation lies a consistently improving player. In each of his first 3 years on campus, he has had significant improvements in his PPG, RPG, and FG%. His scoring has increased from 7.7 to 9.9 to 10.9 poings per game. His rebounds have gone from 4.7 to 5.2 to 5.7 per game. His FG% has gone from 55% to 59% to 63%. Not too shabby. He ranked 3rd in the Big Ten in PPWS last year and 8th in rebounding percentage (both stats for conference games only). Based on his career numbers, it seems that 12-13 points and 6.5 rebounds a game are not out of line along with 65% shooting from the field. When Sims is on, he's very tough to defend in the post with his feathery touch and long arms. Unfortunately, he can struggle to get position against tougher defenders and struggles to beat the double team. It's now or never for this senior to prove he is one of the best players in the Big Ten by stepping up in his final season.

Brent Petway - Air Georgia. Opposing fans think he just wants to dunk and has no interest in helping the team win. The funny thing is, he is a phenomenal defender and very good on the glass. Yes, his offense is limited to within 5 or 10 feet from the rim, but he is still a valuable player that brings energy off the bench. I'm a little worried that his impact will suffer if Michigan is forced to use him as a starter at the 4 spot this year. Thankfully, our next player may have something to say about that.

DeShawn Sims - Michigan's biggest recruit since Daniel Horton and a hell of a matchup problem for opponents. This freshman could be a star. He's 6'8", 225 lbs, and can score inside or out. Jamal Mashburn is the comparison that has most frequently been thrown around to describe his game. In very tragic news, his younger brother was shot and killed this weekend so my heart goes out to him and his family. Sims figures to be the prototypical 4 man for the uptempo game that Tommy Amaker favors.

Ekpe Udoh - get to know this name. He's 6'10" with a 7'3" wingspan and he can do some damage in the paint. Not afraid to mix it up down low, this freshman will provide big time depth off the bench this year spelling Courtney Sims. His style is also a nice complement to the team and will help replace a little of what Graham Brown brought.

Kendric Price - a 6'8" twig at 205 lbs who has too good of a jumper to play in the post and too little ball handling skills to play on the wing. He redshirted last year and I have no idea what kind of contribution he will make this year.

Ronald Coleman - in the words of Brian of MGoBlog, "meh". He doesn't do much for me. Supposedly a great shooter, but he's a mere 32% behind the arc in his 2 years at Michigan. He tries hard, but lacks athleticism or the ability to handle the rock. I'm never confident when he is on the floor.

Lester Abram - now this kid can play. He's a career 11 ppg scorer and ranked #4 in the Big Ten in PPWS last year. He can stroke it from anywhere on the court and is a hard nosed defender. Now a 5th year senior, he is a career 49% shooter from the floor, 40% behind the arc, and 85% from the line. His only problem is that he cannot create much off the dribble and is not a good passer. Abram is a great secondary scorer on a team, but he cannot create for himself and he doesn't make others better. Still, when he is in the game Michigan usually has an advantage over their opponent at his position.

K'len Morris - jack of all trades who can play anything from the 1 to the 3 spot on the floor. I'll have to see more of his game before I make any definitive statements as to how good this freshman is, but he is definitely not a raw project as he has a pretty polished game based on reports of everybody that have seen him. He'll provide depth off the bench this year, but we are in trouble if he is playing major minutes.

Anthony Wright - interesting freshman from hoops power Oak Hill in Virignia. He's a 3 man with deep range on his jumper and a reputation for being a tough defender. He also has to know a thing or two about winning coming from Oak Hill. Might have a tough time cracking the rotation, though, with guys like Abram and Coleman and Morris also fighting for time at the small forward spot.

Jevohn Shepherd - if anybody on the team can give Petway a run for his money in terms of athleticism, it's this kid. This sophomore from Toronto is a 6'5" skywalker. Unfortunately, he handles the ball worse than many HS players and can't pass. His jump shot is OK and he can play good defense, but his ballhandling really holds him back. A tremendous upside, but I'm skeptical that he can be more than role player this year.

Dion Harris - this senior is the prototypical combo guard. Pretty good handle for a shooting guard, but far from a natural point. He has scored at least 10 ppg in each of his first 3 seasons peaking at 14 ppg as a sophomore. Last year he was deadly behind the arc hitting 39% despite shooting a high volume going 69/177. One of the best long range shooters in the conference will be splitting time between PG and SG this year for the Wolverines. Expect his scoring to suffer if he is running the point and Michigan doesn't have anyone that can replace his scoring ability at the 2 spot. This leads us to...

Jerret Smith - the pudgy backup PG as a freshman is going to be counted on to provide big time minutes at the point this year. He is not the fastest, but is very strong on the ball on offense. A decent shot and a natural passing ability combined with good vision make him a perfect fit at point guard. Unfortunately, his conditioning lets him down at times and he has to rely on guile and strength to break down the D because his quickness isn't good enough.

Reed Baker - lightly recruited 6'1" point guard from Fort Myers, Florida. He's the prototypical scrappy little white guy that can shoot the lights out. It's a void Michigan has had since Robbie Reid graduated. How much will he contribute? Hard to say. It's not hard to imagine him coming into at least one game this year and knocking down 4/5 threes over a few minutes and breaking a game open, but it's also not a stretch to think he'll have trouble defending any good Big Ten guard.

There you have it, the 2006 Michigan Wolverines. What to expect? Only God knows. I could see them finishing anywhere between 17-14 and 23-8 in the regular season heading into the Big Ten tournament. I'm not betting on them winning anything this year, but hold out the possibility that I could be pleasantly surprised. I'll be happy if they stop turning the ball over so much and play some defense. I think the 2 most important players this year are Jerret Smith and Courtney Sims. If they are both consistently productive, Michigan will have a very good team. I find it hard to believe that they can both do that, however.



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