Monday, November 30, 2009

Youth and the learning curve

Well that didn't go particularly well, did it? When Michigan was favored to win the Old Spice Classic this weekend, they imploded and bowed out of the tournament a putrid 1-2, with losses to Marquette and Alabama.

There was a lot of hype leading up to the 2009 season but one thing is clear after only five games: Michigan is still going to struggle mightily through one of the most difficult schedules in the country, and arguably the deepest conference in the country. They are a young team full of potential and undeniable stars, but their deficiencies--lack of size, consistency, on the ball defense--are obvious and will be exploited as the season goes on. This isn't to say we should scrap the season and hope 2010 is brighter. But the past weekend was, in a word, discouraging.

It's difficult to be a three-point-shooting team, though, when you're not making three pointers. Michigan had these stretches last year too, where they had trouble making any threes, and this tournament recalled those times, as Michigan shot an ugly 19/72 (26%) from outside the arc. And when you combine that with Michigan's inability to score underneath the bucket and missed dunks and missed layups and missed free throws, well, you come out of tournaments you're expected to win 1-2. But increased consistency and shooting percentage will hopefully come as the younger players adjust to the speed of the game.

The real concerns are the defense and the lack of production from anyone outside of Manny Harris, DeShawn Sims, and the occasional flown-in three from Stu Douglass. When the shots start falling (and all indications from last year are that they will), production shouldn't be a problem. We've seen flashes of greatness from LLP and Matt Vogrich, and Novak and Douglass can both be lights out from time to time. But the defense looks porous and has been easily picked apart. I think a big part of this is having Darius Morris--and occasionally Vogrich--in the lineup. The 1-3-1 zone relies so heavily on rotation and discipline that there's quite a learning curve involved. If one player doesn't rotate in time or is caught out of position, it throws the entire defense off. But we saw it work last season, and these games should not be anything more than a minor blip on your panic radar. The more time the young players spend in the defense, the more effective it will be.

Michigan has two seniors (Sims, Zack Gibson), two juniors (Harris, Anthony Wright), and 12 freshmen/sophomores on their roster. There are obviously going to be some bumps in the road, especially early in the season. On Wednesday, Michigan takes on Boston College at home before getting a bevy of cupcakes/winnable games (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Utah, University of Detroit). From there it gets tough, but Michigan should hopefully have all of the little problems worked out by the time they hit the meat of their schedule.


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