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C’mon guys, they were just looking for Waldo:

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At 7.4 points per game, shooting 37.4%, Zack Novak is your leading returning scorer for 2010-11.

A few weeks ago, I took a look at what Michigan basketball’s lineup would look like in 2010-11, with one large assumption: that Manny Harris would be staying with the team. With Manny now off to pursue a pro basketball career, the Wolverines are left without their top two scorers and rebounders from the past three years, and not a whole lot of production from their returning players. With Harris, DeShawn Sims, Zack Gibson, and Anthony Wright departing, Michigan loses 61% of their points, 53% of their rebounds, and 39% of their assists from players who took up just under 42% of the team’s minutes last season.

That wouldn’t be such an issue if the load was spread evenly across those four players (and the rest of the team), but Harris and Sims obviously accounted for most of that production. Now Michigan’s leading returning scorer and rebounder is Zack Novak, who averaged 7.4 points and 4.3 boards per game last season, while Darius Morris is the team’s returning assist leader at 2.6 per game. The scariest part? Morris also is the team’s leading shooter among returning players… after shooting 40.6% from the field last season.

The good news? Michigan is adding two guys with the potential to be high-volume scorers in PF Evan Smotrycz and SG/SF Tim Hardaway, Jr., as well as depth up front in PF Jon Horford. Here’s what next year’s rotation looks like right now:

[table id=102 /]

I hate to say it, but that looks like a team that will struggle to remain in postseason contention of any kind, let alone a squad that will lift the Wolverines back into the NCAA tournament. There is, however, one huge wild card still at play: SG Trey Zeigler, the #26 player in the class of 2010 according to Rivals.com, has Michigan in his final five teams, and many expect his final decision to come down to the Wolverines and Central Michigan, where his father is the head coach. Zeigler could provide something that appears to be lacking in the above lineup, a player who can get into the lane, create his own shot and bear his share of the scoring load.

Even if Zeigler signs, however, there will be huge question marks surrounding this team next season. The lack of depth up front borderlines on dire, with two redshirt freshmen coming off injury-plagued years (Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans) representing the only returning Wolverines capable of playing center — and that’s a stretch for the lanky McLimans — and two true freshmen (Smotrycz and Horford, who is rail-thin for a 6-9 power forward) as the only other bigs on the roster.

There are equally large concerns with the players who have seen actual minutes with the Wolverines as well. Can Darius Morris round out his game and continue the improvement we saw from him over the course of his freshman season? Will Zack Novak be more effective if he is able to play small forward instead of extremely-undersized power forward? Can Matt Vogrich become a reliable rotation player after barely seeing the floor as a freshman? Will Laval Lucas-Perry do something — anything — positive with any sort of consistency?

Of course, the biggest question, perhaps the key to the entire season, will simply be this: Can this team find their shooting stroke? Michigan finished 2009-10 shooting 41.6% from the field as a team, and just 29.9% from three, in an offense predicated around finding open jump-shooters and knocking down triples. Even if Smotrycz and Hardaway come in and shoot the lights out, this team will still need Douglass, Novak, and Morris to greatly improve their shooting performances from last season if they hope to stay in postseason contention and out of the Big Ten basement.

Manny Harris leaving early may become the ultimate test of John Beilein and his system — he will have to take a nucleus of supporting cast players and true freshmen and mold them into a productive team, somehow, or there will be very serious questions about his job security (whether those questions are deserved or not). Let’s all hope he’s as good a coach as his resume makes him appear to be, or it could be a very ugly 2010-11 season.

When I was growing up, I’d read the sports section of the Ann Arbor News and the New York Times every day, without fail.

Every day, that is, except after days when Michigan lost.

You’d think things would change, but all I wanted to do when I got up today was go back to bed, ignore everything that happened last night — and this morning — and try to pretend like this wasn’t the worst possible way to end the worst year in Michigan sports… ever.

We all know what happened by now: Michigan got completely screwed out of what should have been the game-winning goal in OT against Miami when the ref blew the play dead (or at least intended to) with the puck sitting uncontrolled in the crease. One OT period later, and a quick wrister got by Shawn Hunwick. Season over, in unbelievably painful fashion.

This morning, Manny Harris officially announced he was opting to declare early for the NBA draft.

To be honest, I’ve got nothing: last night took everything out of me — all the vitriol towards the refs couldn’t overcome the feeling of emptiness, of total defeat, that has accrued over this year of cruelty. So, I will keep my thoughts brief.

First, this Michigan hockey team was a joy to watch for the past few weeks, and should be remembered fondly for their miracle run and unbelievable play down the stretch. They played great hockey last night, and I think every team in the Frozen Four feels a sense of relief that the Wolverines won’t be in Detroit this weekend. If nothing else, that is something to be proud of.

To the hockey seniors — captain Chris Summers, Steve Kampfer, Brian Lebler, Anthony Ciraulo, and Eric Elmblad — thanks for four great years of hockey. I wish their careers could have ended on a better note, but one unfortunate loss shouldn’t ruin the memory of four years with a fantastic hockey program.

To Miami, I only wish them the best of luck. The team has gone through a lot this season, losing one of their student team managers in a fatal car accident, and have a very likable coach and team. The RedHawks weren’t the ones holding the whistles last night, so I hope Michigan fans have the decency to keep their anger directed at those who deserve it. Personally, I’ll be pulling for Miami to go all the way this weekend.

As for Manny, I again can only wish him good luck. Ultimately, this is a college student making a choice about his career (and a very lucrative one at that), and we have to respect the decision that he has made. Manny has played three tremendous years of basketball for Michigan, and has represented his school well. I hope he finds an equal amount of success at the professional level.

That’s really all I have in me for today. Like most of you, I’ll be doing my best to put this weekend in perspective and move on. Tomorrow I’ll have a breakdown about how Manny’s departure will affect the basketball program moving forward. Today, I’ll be doing my best to avoid the papers.

Jon Horford becomes Michigan's third commit in the class of 2010 (image via UMHoops).

According to Chris Balas at The Wolverine, Grand Ledge senior forward Jon Horford committed to Michigan today, joining Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway, Jr. in John Beilein’s recruiting class of 2010. Rivals and Scout both consider Horford a three-star prospect, and ESPN ranks him as the #75 power forward in his class. He averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds per game in his senior season at Grand Ledge. Horford is listed at 6-9 and 185 pounds (although UMHoops found a more recent listed weight of 225, which would be nice), and has acknowledged that his top priority will be adding some bulk before he joins the Wolverines. Although Horford will not be expected to step in and contribute immediately, considering his size and raw potential, there will be plenty of opportunity for him to do so with the graduation of DeShawn Sims and Zack Gibson.

Horford’s commitment leaves Michigan with one big target remaining: Mount Pleasant shooting guard Trey Zeigler, Rivals’ #26 player in the country, who recently cut down his list to a final five of Michigan, MSU, UCLA, Arizona State, and Central Michigan, where his father is the head coach. Zeigler will be announcing his decision in April. If Michigan misses on Zeigler, they could potentially go after Detroit Denby forward Isaiah Sykes, a three-star who has cropped up on several schools’ radars with a stellar senior season (Denby is currently in the state semifinals) or hold on to the scholarship for the class of 2011.

Horford is a nice pickup at a position of dire need for the Wolverines. For more on his commitment, make sure to check out Dylan’s commitment post, which has analysis and video of Horford, as well as speculation as to how he’ll fit with the Wolverines and an updated scholarship breakdown.

Sophomore Dan Bakala has solidified the goaltending position for BSU.

With Michigan slated to face off with Bemidji State in the first round of the NCAA tournament tomorrow evening, I was lucky enough to get in contact with “Millsy,” who runs the BSU hockey site The Beaver Pond, for a quick Q&A about the Beavers. Thanks to Millsy for being willing to do this Q&A on short notice, and also for providing an extensive history he wrote on BSU hockey, which I’ll post after the jump.

TWB: What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of the Beavers? How do you think they match up against Michigan?

Millsy: I will admit, I have not seen Michigan play this year, so I am not sure how they will match up.  BSU’s strength is their work ethic, what everyone who has seen them call Beaver Hockey.  This team will not be outworked by anyone in the nation.  They are very aggressive on the forecheck and will block shots like no other team I have seen.  They are not afraid to get in the corners and bang bodies.  They have quite a bit of speed and they do roll four lines, which has helped them in a couple of come from behind victories this year as other teams shorten their bench and go to three lines.  Defensively, they are very sound and very seldom get caught in odd man rushes or out of position.

Looking at their conference numbers (almost 4 goals and 32 shots per game) it would appear that BSU likes to play an up-tempo style of hockey. What style of play does BSU prefer to play, and how do you think they will try to attack the Wolverines?

Up until three years ago, BSU played a very defense first brand of hockey, as that is how they could compete against the “big boys”.  With the success that they had, the more offensively skilled recruits started to show up, and that has lead to a change to an offensive style.  But Beaver Hockey still preaches taking care of your own end first.

Bemidji State has one of the strangest resumes in the tournament, between the weakness of the CHA and a very road-heavy non-conference schedule. How should a Michigan fan interpret BSU’s schedule and their performance this season?

BSU is used to playing on the road as it is hard to get teams to come to Bemidji from a travel standpoint unless they are within bussing distance (thank you North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State-Mankato).  Just to give you an idea, a typical conference trip for BSU involves bussing to Minneapolis on Wednesday, catch a flight out of Minneapolis on Thursday to Chicago or Detroit and then catching another flight to Huntsville, Niagara, or Robert Morris.  So they are travel tested and a direct charter flight out of Bemidji to Fort Wayne will be a cake walk for them.  Since January 1, 2010, they have had just five home games out of a total of 18 over that time frame.  Their road and neutral site record is 11-6-4 on the season, while they have a home record of 12-3-0.  So if Fort Wayne turns into a “home” game for Michigan, the Beavers will be ready for it.

Obviously, Bemidji State put themselves on the college hockey map with their improbable Frozen Four run last season. Do you think they can make a similar run this season, and how do you think last year’s experience effects their approach to this year’s tournament?

Can BSU pull off a run like last year?  The answer is yes, this is a one game elimination tournament and anything can happen.  Will the Beavers sneak up on anyone this year?  No, last year took that away, and the Beavers have been ranked in the top ten for most of the year.

Thanks again to Millsy for taking part in this — make sure to head over to The Beaver Pond for more on Michigan’s first-round opponent. Hit the jump for Millsy’s extensive piece on the illustrious history of BSU hockey.

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Defenseman Chris Summers is expected to be back on the ice this weekend.

A couple pieces of good news for Michigan hockey fans today. First, Michigan’s captain and top defenseman, senior Chris Summers, is expected to play on Saturday after missing the last two weekends with a deep thigh bruise:

Following Wednesday’s practice, Berenson said he is over 80 percent confident Summers will return this weekend for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. Midwest Regional contest against Bemidji State.

“I thought he looked pretty good again [on Wednesday],” Berenson said. “He’s such a free skater, and that’s an advantage he has. And he’s a senior. He’s fit. He’s worked hard in this whole rehab. If he gets through the next few days, he’ll play.”

In that same article, Michael Spath reports that goalie Bryan Hogan has still not been cleared to play after not skating in Tuesday’s practice. While Michigan obviously will be starting Shawn Hunwick no matter what, it would be nice to get Hogan cleared just in case Michigan — for whatever reason — needs to bring in a backup. As it stands right now, with Hogan sidelined, Michigan’s only other goaltender on the roster is freshman walk-on Patrick Summers, the younger brother of Chris who hasn’t seen a single career minute of ice time. Right now, unfortunately, Red doesn’t sound optimistic about Hogan being able to dress this weekend:

“I would have to really confirm that Hogan’s ready to dress,” Berenson said. “That means he’s ready to go in and play if we really needed him. Right now he’s not.

Unfortunate, but I did say I had a second piece of good news. For those worried about having to find a bar carrying the game, or wait for the tape-delay telecast on ESPNU, fear no more: according to the Michigan hockey twitter account, Comcast channel 900 has picked up Saturday night’s game, which starts at 7:30 EST.

Sunday’s regional final, if Michigan makes it that far, is still scheduled for 8 pm on ESPNU.

The move to the 3-3-5 frees up Craig Roh to do, well, this.

As you have probably read by now, Michigan’s players have revealed that the defense is moving to a 3-3-5 alignment for this season. Rich Rodriguez employed that defense at West Virginia, and now Greg Robinson will be in charge of using it to take advantage of the speed Michigan has on defense.

For those of you with a Rivals account, there is a great message board post about the 3-3-5 and how it is deployed. In short, the three down linemen can choose to attack the gap on either side of them, and the three linebackers either blitz or fill the gaps left by the defensive linemen. This allows a lot of flexibility for blitzes and adds a lot of unpredictability to the defense — the offense never knows for sure which way the line will attack and where the blitzers will be coming from. This switch makes a lot of sense for a team with a solid X’s-and-O’s guy at defensive coordinator in Greg Robinson and a lot of team speed (and not a ton of size) on defense. Here are four guys who I think will greatly benefit from the move to the 3-3-5:

  1. LB Craig Roh —  Yes, that’s linebacker Craig Roh. The switch to the 3-3-5 means Roh will be occupying one of the outside linebacker spots, and he will likely be the fourth player attacking the line of scrimmage on every play. Unlike last year, with Roh at quick end usually coming off the edge on every play, where the offense could easily account for him, the flexibility of the 3-3-5 allows Roh to attack several different gaps and makes it harder for the offense to help keep him out of the backfield. Roh was already poised for a breakout sophomore season after playing his entire freshman year probably 15 pounds underweight and without any college experience, even in spring practice, and now it seems even more likely that Roh could put up some very impressive numbers this season.
  2. DT Mike Martin — While reading about the 3-3-5, I couldn’t help but think of Martin and how perfect this defense sounds for a player like him. Martin is at his best when he gets to pick a gap and penetrate into the backfield, something he couldn’t do a lot of while stuck at nose tackle last season. Now, with five players likely heading for the backfield on any given play, and with Martin shifting over to DT, offenses probably won’t be able to send two offensive linemen at Martin on every play. We should see the Mike Martin everybody expected to see last year after his stellar freshman season — a freakishly strong and quick defensive tackle who is liable to blow up any play in the backfield.
  3. S Jordan Kovacs — The benefit of having five defensive backs is that you can tailor the safeties’ responsibilities to their strengths — with one deep safety and two strong safeties (one who plays up and one who has to be able to drop back deep), Michigan has a lot of options for their defensive backs. Kovacs seems to benefit the most from the change — his strongsuit is playing aggressive run support and attacking the backfield, something Michigan will need from at least one of their strong safeties. With four other defensive backs on the field, Kovacs won’t have as much responsibility for pass coverage, the weakest part of his game. Michigan can mask Kovacs’ athletic deficiencies somewhat with this change, and allow him to play to his strengths.
  4. LB Obi Ezeh — Ezeh now has linebacker help on both sides of him, and what I believe is a much simpler read on most plays (reading the defensive lineman in front of him and assuming responsibility for the other gap). With Ezeh, the problem has never been his physical skills, but being aggressive and making quick reads before the offense accounts for him. This should free Ezeh up to be a more aggressive player, and also allow him to blitz and take advantage of his physical skills. This move may save Ezeh his starting job, and could turn him into the type of player we expect to see from a four-year starter.

The scheme as a whole should benefit the team, which has a lot of speed on defense but also a lot of inexperience. The 3-3-5 plays to the strengths of Michigan’s personnel, something last year’s defense didn’t seem to do all the time (asking Kovacs to play deep safety, forcing Ezeh and Mouton to cover the field sideline-to-sideline, etc.). Also, as Hiesman84 stated in his message board post, this allows Greg Robinson to play “mad scientist” with his blitz schemes, something that should both benefit the defense and be fun to watch as a fan. This move makes sense to me, and should help the process of rebuilding Michigan’s most disappointing unit.