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Sitting Down with Maize N' Brew

Earlier in the offseason, I talked with Dave at Maize N' Brew, SB Nation's home for all things Wolverine. Let's get to it. 

What do you think was the best win of the past season? The worst loss?

MnB Dave: The biggest win of the season was easily Michigan's losing streak breaking win in East Lansing. Michigan was 1-6 in the Big Ten and looking like a team on the verge of collapsing. Instead they absolutely took it to their ranked, in-state rival in their own house. That win was the defining moment of the season. Not only did it end a
miserable losing streak, but it gave the Wolverines momentum for the rest of the season. For the record, a close second was Michigan's utter incineration of Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament.

The worst loss of the season was their 19 point gacker against Indiana in Bloomington. Michigan was thrashed by the worst team in the league, and the 19 point spread didn't do the loss justice. Michigan was never in that game.

What did finally being able to sweep in-state rival Michigan State (and knocking them off while Sparty was still ranked in East Lansing) mean to this young team?

MnB Dave: Like I said above, that win meant everything to this young team. It meant they could play with the elite of the conference and not just make it close. It meant they could close out a tough opponent. It meant they were no longer a nuisance to be shrugged off by Izzo and company. It also signaled the turn of the tide between Michigan and Michigan St. as foot and doormat. Michigan and State were now on equal footing, regardless of the recruiting rankings, because the Wolverines showed they could seal the deal on both courts when the two teams met. Lose either game and the season's over. But win them both and you're in the Tournament. They did. And they were.

Sophomore Darius Morris declared for the NBA Draft following the end of the tournament. Were you surprised by this? How does knowing he's gone impact your expectations for next season?

MnB Dave: Shocked me, honestly. Especially when Darius' announcement comes on the heals of former Michigan star Manny Harris declaring for the draft and going undrafted. Darius is a sophomore with plenty of room to develop, so the announcement really surprised just about anyone who follows Michigan athletics.

That said, I don't think Morris is entering the draft without a decent idea of where he's going to go in the draft. Harris had no business entering the draft when he did. Morris is different. He's a lanky point guard playing in the toughest conference (top to bottom) in the country with the best assist to turnover ratio in the conference and almost the nation. He's got a great mid range game, great to the hoop, and defends very well. If he can turn the corner on his three point shooting... man.... he's going to be something special.

As for Morris' affect on Michigan in 2011-2012, I think it definitely dials back any thought that Michigan will compete for a Big Ten title. Darius was the reason this team got to the post season. His effectiveness with the ball and scoring touch were something that no one on the team could or can match. Michigan has a great freshman point guard coming in, but he's going to be a freshman in the Big Ten and is going to asked to play the most difficult position on the floor on a team that will need to lean on him. I think Michigan may take a step back to an NIT berth, but I've learned over the last few years not to doubt John Beilein. He's an amazing coach and will somehow find a way to get this team back into the dance.

The Wolverines came very close to pulling some upsets: taking Kansas to OT, losing on Josh Gasser's banked 3 at the buzzer, nearly completing a stunning comeback against Duke in the tournament. Was it of any concern that the team never really got over the hump last season or do you see it as reason for optimism for the future?

MnB Dave: Let me put it this way: at the beginning of this season everyone who follows Michigan Basketball thought they'd be LUCKY to make the NIT for a game or two. Michigan was starting four underclassmen, and they weren't all John Wall type players. No. They were high three, low four star recruits and an unranked, undersized, overmatched white guy named Zack Novak at power forward. So the fact that they were not just in those games, but a break or two from winning them is just stunning for such a young team.

The Wolverines won some tight games against good competition and won when it mattered. Remember, at the end of the season they ended Minnesota's tournament hopes in Minneapolis, nearly ended Michigan State's to close the regular season, and then beat Illinois on a neutral court to cement a tourney invite. That to me sounds like a young team on the rise.

Who do you think will be the key to taking Michigan to the next level in 2011-12?

MnB Dave: Good question, and it's one I really don't have an answer to. I'm hopeful that Michigan will finally develop some depth at center with Jordan Morgan, Blake McLimans and Colton Christian all Sophomores at center. If I had to guess, the real key will be incoming freshman guards Trey Burke and Carlton Brundidge. One of them will have to fill Morris' shoes at point this season.

Finally, former Wolverine Robert Tractor Traylor's death made headlines earlier in the year. Any favorite memories?

MnB Dave: Sigh... Traylor. I have to admit, I was always torn on the Tractor. He was a giant man on the court that looked like a fat baby playing among men. Yet he was more athletic than most gymnasts. I hope he finds the peace that eluded him during his life. If I had to pick a moment it was his backboard shattering dunk from so many years ago.
RIP Robert.