Tuesday, January 10, 2012 Updated: January 11, 1:51 PM ET
Mirror images ... almost
By Michael Rothstein WolverineNation
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Evan Smotrycz initially laughed at the thought of it. Comparisons between players can be tricky and, as Michigan guard Stu Douglass put it, "dangerous."
But as Smotrycz went through it, he saw the truth. A good benchmark for Smotrycz during his Michigan career will be the man he'll likely guard tonight -- Northwestern senior John Shurna, the Big Ten's leading scorer.
Northwestern's John Shurna is the Big Ten's leading scorer.
It's a comparison that isn't that big of a stretch.
For now, Smotrycz is a sophomore, but it is easy to see the similarities in their games. They aren't carbon copies -- Shurna's shooting stroke is unorthodox, and he is a better scorer than Smotrycz -- but what stands out the most is their versatility.
"We're both pretty versatile players," Shurna said. "Both have decent size and can stretch defenses."
Both are also more well-known for their offensive games than what they do on defense, although they likely will see each other directly when playing man-to-man.
Most players at their size play 15 feet and in, but they are more adept outside the 3-point arc than inside it, while possessing the ability to play both inside and outside.
Through Sunday's games, they are two of the top three 3-point shooters 6-foot-9 or taller. The 6-9 Shurna leads all Division I players 6-9 or taller with 41 3-pointers. The 6-9 Smotrycz was tied for third with Indiana's Christian Watford with 27.
"He's real versatile, and obviously he's scoring the ball as well as anyone in the country," Smotrycz said. "Obviously someone I'd want to model my game after, besides that he's a 6-9 white guy.
"He's a great player. I'll take that comparison."
Smotrycz and Shurna aren't the same player -- Smotrycz can drive better than Shurna even as a sophomore and has more of a post presence, while Shurna is a better shooter at this point in his career.
But the comparisons outweigh the differences -- even in potential career progression. Both were inserted into complicated offensive systems as freshman starters, Shurna with the Princeton offense and 1-3-1 defense and Smotrycz in Michigan coach John Beilein's two-guard offense and multiple defensive schemes.
They struggled to pick up concepts their freshman seasons before flourishing as sophomores.
"Freshman year, just trying to know everything, where as time has gone on, I've found ways where I can find my shot and find other people shots," Shurna said. "As opposed to making sure I'm doing the offense right and doing the plays right, it's more of making plays throughout the offense and making the right reads in the offense."
This was an issue Smotrycz struggled with as a freshman, and even early this season. But he has started to grasp things better since a 20-point outing against Oakland on Dec. 10.
Shurna averaged 7.3 points his freshman season, starting all 31 games, before making a jump to 18.2 points as a sophomore as one of the focal points of the Wildcats' offense. He has maintained that average since, including an 18.7 average this season.
Smotrycz averaged 6.3 points last season as a freshman starting 24 of 35 games and has jumped to 10.2 points this season, often as the third option in Michigan's offense.
"The kid is obviously really good, a lot better than people expected him to be, both of them," Michigan redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan said. "Shurna, at this point, he is lighting people up, and you don't really expect for that to happen. But there's definitely some elements in his game that can translate to Evan's, but they are slightly different players.
"Shurna is more perimeter-oriented, and Evan can do a lot more down low. But there are definitely some similarities."
Smotrycz is still learning and trying to grab things from the games of others to adapt to his own, including Shurna's. Shurna comes off screens more than Smotrycz, who often will find himself the beneficiary of kick-out passes from Michigan guards Trey Burke, Zack Novak and Douglass.
When Shurna has the ball, Smotrycz sees something he can improve on.
"I try to do some of the stuff he does off the dribble. It's a fun way to play," Smotrycz said. "Also, just the way he gets rid of the ball real quick. I'd like to do that a little bit, even though (his shot) is a little weird.
"He's able to stop behind screens and come off ball screens and just let it fly."
Smotrycz, though, has two seasons left. So he has time. But if he has a career approaching the one Shurna has, he'll consider it successful.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.