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.