With the Michigan basketball team hitting the home stretch of the regular season with little to no hope of an NCAA Tournament berth, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2010-11. There are just six games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament (@Iowa, PSU, ILL, @OSU, MINN, @MSU) but still a lot of questions to be answered about this team and their potential next season. Here are five things I’d like to see out of the team before the season is over:
- The continued improvement of Darius Morris: This is an obvious one, but also very important. We’ve watched Morris grow in the last couple weeks from an offensive non-factor to the guy John Beilein trusts as his starting point guard, and the true freshman appears to be getting better with every game. If he can continue that improvement, Morris could be one of the stars of the team next season. If his game doesn’t develop, we could have another season with a point guard who won’t score more than 5-10 points in any given game. I’d like to see Morris, who has been deferential sometimes to a fault this season, look to create his own shot a little more — if Manny Harris ends up going pro, Michigan will need someone to step into the role of slasher/creator, and Morris is the most likely candidate. If he can show an ability to get to the basket and finish consistently, Michigan’s outlook for 2010-11 gets a lot better.
- Manny Harris playing within himself: Let’s assume, at least for the time being, that Manny Harris will stay true to his word and come back next season. If he does return, Manny may have to shoulder even more of the offensive burden for Michigan without partner in crime DeShawn Sims. We’ve seen what happens to Manny when he tries to do too much for the team: turnovers, poor shot selection, and unnecessary risks on defense. Harris has made strides in the turnover department, improving in turnovers per game and turnover rate every season of his career, but his overall efficiency on the offensive end hasn’t made the leap that Michigan fans were expecting heading into this season. If he can start showing maturation now, I’ll be a lot more confident that Manny can be an efficient and effective player while still carrying his supporting cast.
- Someone — anyone — find their shooting stroke: I guess I should amend that to “any returning player” but you get the point — as a team, Michigan is shooting 29.8% from three, and only three players (LLP, Stu Douglass, DeShawn Sims) who have attempted more than 25 is shooting better than 30%. John Beilein’s offense is predicated around the three-pointer, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, so it would be nice to see someone step up and start consistently hitting shots. If I had to pick a player I’d like to see find his stroke, it’s Zack Novak — he does everything well for this team right now except score, the other players feed off of his energy (and when he plays well, you can feel how he boosts the team), and he’ll almost certainly be starting next season, so having him become a bigger offensive threat would really benefit this team.
- Stu Douglass regain his offensive confidence: It’s been tough to watch Douglass playing against himself for much of the season, and you can tell that his inability to hit jumpers has caused him to lose confidence in his all-around offensive game. With Morris now manning the point, Michigan doesn’t need to keep Douglass in the lineup going forward — few teams should be desperate enough to keep giving 30 minutes per game to a guy who shoots 31.5% from the field, doesn’t rebound well for his height, and can be exposed defensively against quicker guards. I’m not ready to give up on Stu, however, because of his ballhandling, passing, and his potential as a shooter. If Stu starts getting more aggressive, like he showed against Minnesota with that great backdoor cut for a layup, he could be an integral part of this team for the next two seasons. If he plays like he did earlier in Big Ten play, when he was passing up open layups and tripping over himself to avoid shooting, he may find himself getting passed over by younger players starting next season, when Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway get to campus.
- See what Matt Vogrich can bring to this team: When this team was still battling for a (meaningful) postseason berth, I had no problem with John Beilein keeping the freshman Vogrich mostly out of the rotation (6 mpg this season). At this juncture, however, I’d like to see how Vogrich responds to a bigger role — in very limited opportunities, he has shown a Novakian ability to get to rebounds and loose balls as well as an effective three-point shot (9-for-24 on the season). Especially if Manny Harris turns pro, Michigan will need Vogrich to take on a bigger role next season. With nothing to lose this year, it would be nice to get him some experience getting big minutes in Big Ten play.
Michigan has a good opportunity to continue their momentum from the Minnesota win tomorrow night when they take on cellar-dweller Iowa on the road. Given how their first game against the Hawkeyes went (a 60-46 victory that wasn’t that close), the game could be an opportunity to see some experimenting with the rotation if John Beilein desires, and a chance to see guys like Vogrich get some burn off the bench.