Basketball season officially starts tomorrow, which should come as a relief to Michigan fans everywhere. Before I even start diving in to my preview, I encourage you to check out UMHoops. Seriously, nobody comes close to Dylan when it comes to Michigan hoops knowledge and content among bloggers. If this means you ignore my preview entirely and just check out his site, so be it.
Alright, now that I’ve scared off most of you, I’ll kick off my preview with five predictions for the team this year, most of which will probably make me look stupid:
- Manny Harris makes second-team All-American — Yes, this is going out on a limb. With Oklahoma’s Willie Warren, Kansas’ Sharron Collins, Kentucky freshman phenom John Wall, Ohio State’s Evan Turner, and Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas all vying for AA honors at guard, it’s a very tough year to crack even the third team. However, if Michigan finishes the year as a top 15 team (which I think they have a very good shot at doing), it will be very hard to ignore the exploits of their best player. I expect Manny to be more efficient with his shooting this season, and with a legit post threat in DeShawn Sims, solid shooters in Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Laval Lucas-Perry (as well as freshman Matt Vogrich), and a true distributing point guard in freshman Darius Morris, defenses won’t be able to key on him as much as they did in the past two seasons. I think he can average 20 points a game without taking much away from the rest of the team, but with all of Michigan’s weapons, he’ll probably settle for 18 a game while coming close to his mark of 4.4 assists per game from last year. Throw in his 7 boards a game, and those are All-American numbers.
- Michigan cracks the top 25 in tempo-free offense — I’m not going to delve too deep into tempo-free stats (check out The Only Colors’ explanation, which sums them up perfectly), but in essence they take a team’s pace out of the equation and measure how many points a team would score given the same amount of possessions per game as any other team. Last season, Michigan finished 44th in the country with 111.3 points/100 possessions. To crack last year’s top 25, they would only have to improve that number by three points, which should not be an issue for a team with another year of John Beilein’s system under its belt. A full 39.4% of Michigan’s shots last year came from beyond the three-point line (8th in the country), but they hit only 33.4% of those shots. I expect the latter number to come up significantly this year as Harris, Novak, Douglass, and LLP progress, which would push this offense easily into the top 25 in the country.
- Darius Morris’ impact goes far beyond the box score — Beilein’s signature 1-3-1 defense wasn’t used a whole lot last year, as Michigan went with more of a 2-3 look, in large part to cover for the lack of size at point guard. Enter 6’4″ point guard Darius Morris, who has already made a name for himself as a solid defender who can anchor the 1-3-1. This should free up Michigan to play the kind of aggressive, turnover-forcing basketball that was Beilein’s staple at West Virginia. Add in the fact that Morris is a team-first guy who looks for teammates before his own offense, and I think he’ll be a guy who averages six points/game and four or five assists but completely opens up the game on both ends of the floor.
- DeShawn Sims makes first-team All-Big Ten — Sims went through a transformation last season, going from a perimeter-oriented big man to a guy who made his living in the post. At times, he was Michigan’s best player, with his dominant 29 point outburst against Purdue in a must-win game (on 13-16 shooting, no less) opening a lot of eyes around the conference. I expect Sims to become even more comfortable in his role this year, staying on the block more instead of wandering out to the three-point line. If Michigan gives him the looks, he’ll convert more times than not (Dylan points out that he hit 55% of his two-point shots last year). With Morris and Harris looking for Peedi on the block, I fully expect him to improve on his 15.4 points per game and 50.5% field goal percentage.
- Michigan locks up a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament — Yes, this means I think Michigan will finish as a top-16 team in the country, at least in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament committee. The Wolverines will have several shots at a signature win, with games against Boston College, Utah, Kansas, and UConn all looming on the non-conference schedule, a road contest at Purdue in January, and two cracks at Michigan State (at home on Jan. 26, and the season finale at the Breslin Center on March 6). I like our chances against BC and Utah, and any game at home (UConn, MSU) should give Michigan a puncher’s chance for an upset. If this team takes care of business against the teams they should beat, this is easily a 20+ win team.
Quickly, my predicted order of finish for the Big Ten, with a ten-words or less summary:
- Michigan State — Just loaded. Kalin Lucas is an AA.
- Purdue — Super sophs become experienced juniors.
- Ohio State — Evan Turner is a beast.
- Michigan — See above.
- Minnesota — Return top nine scorers from tourney squad.
- Illinois — Losing Frazier, Meachem and Brock hurts, but still solid.
- Wisconsin — Always perform under Ryan, but losing best bigs.
- Penn State — Talor Battle will have to carry the load.
- Indiana — Will go as far as freshmen take them.
- Northwestern — Losing Cable for 4-6 weeks kills any tourney hopes.
- Iowa — This year’s Indiana, 2008.
Hoops tips off tomorrow night at 7 against D-II Northern Michigan. As always, UM Hoops has the preview, and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network. It’s never too late to jump on the bandwagon…