I realize that Michigan has a game on Thursday against Iowa, and crazy things can happen in March. However, Michigan beating Iowa, Ohio State, the Wisconsin/Illinois winner, and either Purdue or Michigan State — essentially, what the Wolverines need to do to make a tournament run — goes beyond crazy and into the realm of the completely impossible, so I’m going to go ahead and address something more relevant: what will this team look like next season?
First thing’s first: I’m assuming that Manny Harris, who said he’ll be back next season in the midst of a year where his NBA draft stock has plummeted, will in fact be back next season. If he’s not, this article could be extremely short: we will be bad, there will be blood, and the hockey team will be our only hope of having a decent spring. Kind of like the whole Ellerbe era. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen.
Second, I’m becoming less and less convinced that Michigan will be able to land Trey Zeigler: he’s got great offers from better schools, and if he wants to stay close to home he has the option of playing for his father at Central Michigan, something that seems to be a very real possibility, or playing for Michigan State, only one of the best programs in the country. With Harris probably returning, and the Michigan program not looking nearly as good as it did a year ago, nobody would blame Zeigler for heading to MSU, UCLA or Duke or taking the opportunity to be the star on a team his dad coaches. In short, I’m not optimistic that John Beilein will be able to convince Zeigler that Ann Arbor is the place for him.
So, what does that leave us? Something like this:
[table id=100 /]
Obviously, the actual lineup could appear much different next season, but the cast of characters remains the same. Darius Morris will have the point guard position locked down, and Manny Harris will obviously be starting on the wing. Other than those two top-100 guys, Michigan will be rolling out a shooting guard who has completely lost his touch (Douglass), a shooting guard masquerading as a Big Ten power forward (Novak), and in all likelihood an untested redshirt freshman at center (Morgan, probably, or McLimans, but he’s more of a power forward).
Freshman Evan Smotrycz has a solid shot at starting, which could help this lineup immensely: if he can play at power forward, Michigan can shift Novak down to the three and play Harris at shooting guard, which would suddenly give Michigan a decent-sized lineup and great rebounding from their wings and guards, something the team will probably need given the situation at center. The added bonus would be being able to bring Douglass from off the bench at point guard, instead of leaving him in the starting lineup despite his struggles on both offense and defense this year. That hangs on a huge if, however, and that is if Smotrycz is ready to step in and play at power forward in the Big Ten.
There are some wild cards. I included three-star prospect Jon Horford on the above list, although Michigan has not yet extended an offer. I would expect, if Michigan loses out on Zeigler, for Beilein to grab Horford in this year’s recruiting class, and he could add some depth and possibly compete for a spot at the four or the five (he’s listed at 6-9, 185, so hopefully adding weight would be in order before he took the court next season). The younger Tim Hardaway is an interesting prospect at the wing — the guy is scoring like crazy in high school, and could be the type of instant offense this team has desperately needed outside of Harris and Sims the last couple years. Again, however, he will be a freshman. Matt Vogrich will have a full offseason to get physically prepared for Big Ten college basketball, but it would take an enormous leap for him to be a big-time contributor after spending the majority of this season riding the pine.
Maybe this year has beaten all the optimism out of me, but I have a hard time looking at that lineup and seeing a team that will be better next season. Maybe the system will finally take hold. Maybe the shots will start falling. Maybe Zeigler bolsters an already-solid recruiting class and adds another scoring threat on the wing. Maybe Evan Smotrycz is Kevin Pittsnogle 2.0. Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like Michigan will be depending on a lot of maybes if they hope to be an improved team next season.