The Michigan Wolverines looked dead in the water last year. Beyond dead. Deader than dead. And then a spark, an upset over a then-ranked Michigan St. Spartans team, triggered the Wolverines, who roared through the 2nd half of their schedule after falling to 1-6 in Big Ten play.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to last year's team was Darius Morris, who contributed a team-best 6.7 assists per game and 15.0 points per game. But Morris elected to try for the NBA Draft (which is in lockdown; don't ask me how I feel about David Stern. Just don't.), and will be a member of the Los Angeles Lakers...if the NBA ever gets started this year.
Jordan Dumars elected to end his Michigan career, citing knee issues. Aside from Dumars, only Morris is a departure from last year's Michigan team, which had no seniors. With Morris off to fame and fortune at the NBA level, someone will have to step it up. Will it be Stu Douglass? Zack Novak? Or talented big man Jordan Morgan? Find out, after the jump.
6'8" forward Jordan Morgan contributed a solid 9.2 points per game from the forward position, but it was games where Morgan disappeared from the scoreboards that the Wolverines ended up in trouble. Over the course of Michigan's six game losing streak from January 5th to January 22nd, Morgan averaged 5.3 points per game. In particular, in Michigan's first game against the Buckeyes (a 4-point loss to Ohio State) Morgan simply ceased to exist against Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale. Morgan contributed a grand total of 0 points, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers, and 4 personal fouls. Yikes.
The game against Ohio State in Crisler Arena was the only game in which Morgan failed to score a single point last year. But when Morgan went off on a team, the Wolverines prospered; he ripped Northwestern apart to the tune of a career-best 27 points, keying a 75-66 Wolverine W over the Wildcats in Ann Arbor. In Michigan's two games against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Jordan Morgan scored a combined 35 points, almost all from the paint. The problem with Morgan's game is that he was not an extraordinary rebounder; he only recorded double-figures in that category three times last season; by comparison, Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe, who is listed with the exact same height and weight as Morgan, recorded double-digit rebounds in TWENTY games last season,
Stu Douglass will also have to step up his game; he's gotten better statistically in each season he's been at Michigan, scoring 6.1 points per game as a freshman in 08-09, 6.8 as a sophomore in 09-10, and 7.1 as a junior last year. It's not too much of a stretch to say that he could be an x-factor for the Wolverine offense; Douglass can get hot if left to his own devices, as seen when he shot 4 of 5 from downtown against Penn State, and when Stu hit 5 of his 7 shot attempts to key Michigan's blowout of Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament. One of the major weaknesses of Stu's game is his horrific free throw shooting. However, the charity stripe and Stu Douglass were not exactly on the best of terms to begin with last year; Stu only attempted 12 free throws over the course of the entire season.
Tim Hardaway Jr. will most definitely be called upon a lot by John Beilein. As a freshman last season, Hardaway Jr. averaged 13.9 points per game and ended the season with a run of 16 consecutive games where he scored in double-figures. Tim's impressive season earned him an easy nomination to the All-Big Ten Freshman team and Honorable Mention to the All-Big Ten team, and he's looking for more. His career-high for points came against Iowa, where he scored 30 points on 9 of 14 shooting (going 5 of 7 from beyond the arc), but barely edges out an impressive performance against Indiana, where Hardaway Jr. put in 26 points (4 of 6 shooting from 3-point range, with a 9 of 11 performance from the floor overall).
All-told, Hardaway Jr. was a much-needed burst of energy for last year's Wolverines and was their leading three-point shooter. His performance from the charity stripe leaves much to be desired (but you could very possibly say that for every member of the Michigan Wolverines last season); he missed both free throws in a devastating one-point loss to Wisconsin as time expired and missed 5 free throws against IU, sullying an impressive 26-point performance.
Zack Novak was Michigan's only truly reliable shooter from the free throw line last season, making 83% of his shots from the charity stripe. However, Novak could also be a lethal weapon from beyond the arc; he roasted Wisconsin in Madison for a season-high 20 points on 5 of 8 shooting from 3-point range and then got hot from outside against the Minnesota Golden Gophers for 6-made three point shots (on 10 makes, and Novak's ONLY field goal attempts were from range).
Michigan's schedule is quite favorable in nonconference; their toughest test might be a trip to Charlottesville, where a rebuilding Virginia team awaits them. It remains to be seen whether the amazing second-half effort that Michigan put on last year will carry into this year, but if it does, Michigan could threaten anywhere from 11 to 13 wins in conference play. They need to ride the momentum.
And make their free throws.
FINAL PREDICTION: T-4th in the Big Ten, NCAA Berth, Round of 32