Team preview: Michigan Wolverines

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2011-12 season, exclusively on Insider

Updated: October 28, 2011, 10:32 AM ET
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

Last season, for the third straight year, John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines defied outside expectations. They were a pleasant surprise in his second season, a major disappointment in his third -- and even he admits he did not foresee last season's stunning turnaround -- a run to the NCAA Tournament and near upset of Duke in the third round.

"Yeah, just because of the youth," Beilein said when asked if he was surprised by how things turned out. "We were so young, we did not know how they were going to respond."

Michigan was supposed to land in or near the Big Ten cellar last season after losing stars Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims. Instead, the young nucleus of Darius Morris, Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway, Jr. helped bring this program its best season since the mid-1990s. It was the kind of season that can solidify a program.

"I haven't put a word on what last year was," Beilein said. "Some see it as a breakthrough year. I see it as a positive step. A breakthrough would be if we win a national championship. When we made the NCAA Tournament in our second season, after the long drought, I would call that a breakthrough."

Whatever it was, Beilein is hoping for more of the same. Expectations are back in Ann Arbor, and despite Morris' early jump to the NBA, these Wolverines should be able to break the pattern and play to them.

In a transitioning but still highly competitive Big Ten, this is a crucial opportunity for Beilein, who has 67 wins and 67 losses in four seasons at Michigan.

"In this world, when you coach at this level, I think you constantly need to prove your credibility," he said. "I don't care if you've won two national championships. All of a sudden you get beat in the first round, you've got to re-establish yourself. Consistency is what we're looking for."

At one point last season, it appeared the Wolverines would end up right around where the experts projected. This despite some early signs of life -- competitive losses to Syracuse and Kansas and an upset win at Clemson in which freshmen Hardaway and Evan Smotrycz showed some mettle.

"That's not an easy place to play, but in the last 10 minutes they played like veterans," Beilein said. "They hit their foul shots, made some key plays as the crowd got louder and louder. That's where we exceeded expectations last year. We played above our youth."

Still, Michigan started 1-6 in the Big Ten, unable to overcome a brutal early schedule that included games against Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

There was no NCAA Tournament talk as Michigan headed to play rival Michigan State in East Lansing, where they last won in 1997. But the young Wolverines controlled the faltering Spartans from start to finish, held off a late rally and got the victory that turned the season.

It's a victory that may be viewed as a program turning point some day.

"That was one game we had been in front from start to finish," Beilein said. "The way the game was played, a loss would have been tough to recover from."

Instead, Michigan ripped off eight wins in its next 11 games -- including a home win over the Spartans to sweep that series for the first time in 14 years -- and got into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

The Wolverines destroyed Tennessee in their first game and just missed upsetting Duke. Now, with Hardaway, Morgan, Smotrycz, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass back and some talented freshmen arriving, Michigan is hoping to contend in the Big Ten and reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.

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Now that his system has been in place for four years and he has veterans around to help bring the younger players along, Beilein believes that much-desired consistency is within reach.

"I think it's more about the culture change than about any particular system," he said. "You need your kids to work hard and work smart together, and I think we have that now. You need your upperclassmen to set a tone for everyone else, and I think we have that now."

PLAYERS

PG-TREY BURKE (6-1, 175 lbs., FR, #3, 23.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.6 spg, Northland HS/Columbus, Ohio). The idea was to bring in Burke and let him learn behind Darius Morris while injecting some quickness and playmaking punch into the perimeter group. Instead, Michigan is going to need a lot from him right away.

Beilein needs Burke to do what freshmen Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Evan Smotrycz did a year ago. That is, make a big difference immediately.

"You look at all the freshmen in the country, it's rare that you get a Tim Hardaway or an Evan Smotrycz who can come in and have the type of freshman year they had," Beilein said. "Usually it's more like a Darius Morris or a Deshawn Sims, guys who need a year to get acclimated. We hope Trey can do the same kind of thing Tim and Evan did -- come along quickly -- and if he does we think we can have similar success."

Burke was Ohio's Mr. Basketball as a senior. He is one of just three players in the history of Columbus City League to go undefeated for his entire career (57-0), and he helped Northland High to the state championship as a junior and to the title game as a senior.

Beilein loves that winning pedigree, and he loves Burke's all-around game. This is the next offensive initiator for Michigan basketball, a guy with different strengths than predecessors Morris and Manny Harris.

"We've been blessed to have big, strong point guards," Beilein said. "Trey is different, a smaller guy with great quickness. What he does is he values the assist as much or more as he values scoring."

SG-TIM HARDAWAY, JR. (6-5, 185 lbs., SO, #10, 13.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 30.7 mpg, .420 FG, .367 3PT, .765 FT, Palmetto Senior HS/Miami). Hardaway was not the most heralded recruit coming out of Miami -- despite his pedigree -- but he turned out to be arguably the second-best freshman in the Big Ten last season behind Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. If Morris' development into a sophomore leader was the No. 1 reason for Michigan's surge, Hardaway's instant impact as Morris' backcourt sidekick came in a close second.

"For us to have success last year, we needed evolution at the point guard position and a second scorer off the bench, and that was Tim," Beilein said. "He was a shooter who can score. Now I think you'll see him get to the free throw line more. He's a got a great mid-range game and he just has to use it. And then he's deadly from outside."

Hardaway certainly can improve in some areas. He should have more than 59 assists as a sophomore and he should shoot better than 42 percent overall. He sometimes settled for long-range attempts when the lane was his for the taking.

Considering what Beilein has seen from Hardaway so far, he has no doubt that progress will be made. Like his father, Hardaway is an obsessive worker.

"Earning your spot," Beilein said. "His father earned his All-Star status in the NBA, no one gave it to him, and his son has a similar persona. Tim has tremendous focus at getting better, and no focus on hype, rankings, etc. It's about improvement, it's not about minutes and shots with him. As a result, his rise has been much quicker than some."

SG-ZACK NOVAK (6-4, 210 lbs., SR, #0, 8.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 35.0 mpg, .383 FG, .385 3PT, .831 FT, Chesterton HS/Chesterton, Ind.). Novak has been the emotional supplier for this team for three seasons, and that role should only increase after a typically gritty junior season that saw Novak play with more efficiency.

"I don't know if this is Zack's team," Beilein said, "but he certainly is the leader."

Beilein wants to see Hardaway, Stu Douglass, Jordan Morgan and Matt Vogrich share some of those duties with Novak. And he thinks Novak may be able to spend a bit more time guarding players his own size.

"He's had some tough matchups defensively with 6-8 players, and hopefully this year we can go big at times and allow him to guard a guard," Beilein said. "But he'll be guarding four men at times, and it's good for us to have that kind of versatility."

Michigan will still go small often, but Evan Smotrycz's strength gains make him a candidate to bang with interior players and give Novak a break. Still, don't be surprised if Novak finds a way to lead Michigan in rebounding again.

Novak's biggest improvement as a junior was behind the three-point line; he raised his percentage from a dismal and inexplicable 30.6 percent as a sophomore. The southpaw hit huge shots as a junior and should be a double-digit scorer as a senior.

SF-EVAN SMOTRYCZ (6-9, 235 lbs., SO, #23, 6.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.7 apg, 17.8 mpg, .401 FG, .381 3PT, .690 FT, New Hampton [N.H.] Prep/Reading, Mass.). The numbers don't jump off the page, but Smotrycz delivered key plays all season for the Wolverines, playing with the poise of an upperclassman. And as the season progressed, Smotrycz got more comfortable using his body to get things done going to the rim.

Beilein cites an up-and-under dunk he had in a home win over Michigan State -- part of a day that saw him score 14 points in just 21 minutes. Pair that aggressiveness with Smotrycz's pure outside stroke and you have a player with considerable upside.

"When he came he was more of a shooter, and he realized he needed more diversity in his game to be successful," Beilein said. "He learned he has to do more than just shoot. He needs to do more with his post-drive game, and I think you saw that later in the season."

Don't be surprised if Smotrycz comes close to doubling his scoring average as a sophomore. He's added about 10 pounds of muscle since last season and is just starting to put together the game that Beilein thinks can compare with former Northwestern star Kevin Coble some day.

"His body's changing," Beilein said. "A lot of kids lift weights, but not 48 of 52 weeks a year like college basketball players do. He should be able to do more for us around the basket."

PF-JORDAN MORGAN (6-8, 240 lbs., SO, #52, 9.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.5 apg, 24.0 mpg, .627 FG, .562 FT, U-D Jesuit HS/Detroit). One guy who doesn't need any work on his body is Morgan, whose emergence as a redshirt freshman also deserves prominent mention in last season's success. He sat out his first season, let a knee injury heal, got strong and was then able to give the Wolverines the athletic rim attacker they'd been lacking.

Morgan had his issues defensively at times, but he drew some tough assignments in last season's Big Ten.

"Had he played five or 10 minutes more a game, he may have been our leading scorer," Beilein said. "Foul trouble was a problem at times, and we have to do a better job of handling that this year. Last year's experience was most beneficial for Jordan. He's out there guarding JaJuan Johnson; you can't help but get better when you're put in situations like that. He's a very bright young man, a student of the game, and that has helped a lot."

The combination of Morris and Morgan in the pick and roll put a tremendous amount of pressure on defenses. Morgan got a lot of his points slipping hard to the basket and collecting dunks and free-throw attempts. Improving his 56.2 percent accuracy from the line is a priority, as is adding a mid-range jumper.

"He has to be able to pop a little bit now," Beilein said. "Not out to three-point range, but if he can hit that 15-footer he'll be a much more dangerous player."

SG-STU DOUGLASS (6-3, 190 lbs., SR, #1, 7.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 30.4 mpg, .406 FG, .358 3PT, .231 FT, Carmel HS/Carmel, Ind.). Douglass could easily find himself in the starting lineup as a senior, depending on how quickly Burke comes along. The freshman's progress also could impact where Douglass plays as a senior.

Tim Hardaway Jr.
AP Photo/Michael ConroyTim Hardaway Jr. and the Wolverines should be formidable in 2011-12.
"Stu would like to have a lot of minutes, and one of the ways he can play more minutes is to help us at the point," Beilein said. "He's a very good defender, he's improved in that way. He likes the challenge of taking a bigger player and guarding him. He's much more than just a one-dimensional shooter now."

Still, shooting remains Douglass' staple. Like Novak, he had some prolonged slumps as a sophomore and shot just 32.9 percent from three-point range. He improved last year and Michigan would like to see another three percent increase or so.

"We recruited him as a shooter because of his range, and he's a guy who has hit some big shots for us," Beilein said.

None bigger than the bomb Douglass hit to clinch the win at Michigan State that turned last season around.

G-CARLTON BRUNDIDGE (6-2, 200 lbs., FR, #2, 20.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 5.0 apg, Southfield HS/Southfield, Mich.). Beilein is not ruling Brundidge out as someone who can initiate the offense for stretches.

"He's more of a scoring guard than Trey, though Trey can score," Beilein said. "But our hope is certainly that Carlton can help us some at the point."

Brundidge is a strong guard who did a lot of things for Southfield High in leading the Bluejays to the Class A state semifinals.

SG-MATT VOGRICH (6-4, 190 lbs., JR, #13, 3.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.5 apg, 14.0 mpg, .429 FG, .387 3PT, .667 FT, Lake Forest HS/Lake Forest, Ill.). Vogrich didn't play as much as he hoped as a sophomore, in part because of those fast-rising freshman, and he's in a battle for minutes as a junior.

But Beilein likes the way Vogrich has worked, likes his aggressiveness when he does get playing time, and views him as an instant-offense threat.

"He's up 20 pounds from his freshman year, so we feel he can do more things," Beilein said. "He has a great ability to shoot the ball well right off the bench. That's a way underrated quality to have."

PF-JON HORFORD (6-9, 250 lbs., SO, #15, 2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.1 apg, 6.8 mpg, .478 FG, .125 3PT, .722 FT, Grand Ledge HS/Grand Ledge, Mich.). If there's a returnee with a chance to make a major leap in minutes and production, it's Horford. He's in the 250s now after arriving on campus around 230, and the younger brother of NBA star Al Horford and son of former pro Tito Horford has tons of potential.

Horford wasn't ready for a consistent role as a freshman, but he showed flashes. He has nice skill and athleticism, but needs to guard with more intelligence and rebound with more assertiveness. If he does, his minutes could double or triple.

"That's our hope," Beilein said. "He wants it badly. He wants to be a player. I love how he works, and he's a sponge. He's got great upside and we just have to keep him out of foul trouble and get him to perform more consistently."

SF-COLTON CHRISTIAN (#45, 6-6, 215 lbs., SO, 0.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.1 apg, 4.7 mpg, .182 FG, .000 FT, Hargrave, Va., Military Acad./Bellevue, Wash.). Christian has nice length and can move well, but he could not carve out a role as a freshman. Beilein likes how Christian has worked on his skills, though, and is not ruling out an increased role.

"We think he can back up Evan or Tim and possibly get more minutes this year," Beilein said.

PF-BLAKE MCLIMANS (6-10, 240 lbs., JR, 1.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.1 apg, 5.4 mpg, .317 FG, .053 3PT, 1.000 FT, Worcester, Mass., Acad./Hamburg, N.Y.). When the Wolverines need more size up front, McLimans is there to help.

He has some skill -- though his 1-of-19 performance from three-point range last season suggests he should step in a few feet -- and gives Michigan some versatility.

"It's not like he never gets in there," Beilein said. "He's someone who can help us again this year."

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B+
BENCH/DEPTH: B-
FRONTCOURT: C+
INTANGIBLES: B+

Morris is a big loss. Look around the Big Ten, though, and you'll find several teams that lost much more.

"There were some big senior nights last year in the Big Ten," Beilein said. "Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State with that Diebler-Lighty combo."

The Buckeyes still look like the team to beat, of course, with Jared Sullinger, William Buford and others back. After that, Michigan finds itself in a cluster with several teams that can aspire to challenge.

"I don't think we'll take a step back at all," Beilein said. "That said, when you lose your point guard you always have a transitional period. We've had a freshman or a walk-on starting at point guard in four of my five years here. And that will happen again if Trey or Carlton wins the job, and that's tough."

The Wolverines' nonleague schedule includes a trip to the Maui Invitational, where they'll start against Memphis. Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Georgetown and Tennessee also are part of the loaded field. Michigan also must travel to play Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The lack of a seasoned point guard and a proven frontcourt partner for Morgan may restrict the Wolverines from serious Big Ten contention. But this team has enough talent and chemistry to earn a favorable seeding for the NCAA Tournament and stay in it for a while.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.