Today we kick off our Michigan coverage and I had the opportunity to do a little Q&A exchange with a Michigan website as we like to do whenever possible.
Dylan Burkhardt runs UMHoops.com and I've answered a set of questions for him and he's done the same for me. Hopefully at the end of the day, we all know a little bit more about Michigan basketball 2010-2011.
Two years ago Michigan was a tourney team, a year ago things didn't work out and this year they're back to 11-4 and look like they should be able to make a run. What's the expectation in Ann Arbor for this team and this group as you get ready to dive full on into Big 10 play?
Expectations were as high as they have been in a decade last year but, as you mentioned, Michigan fell flat on its face. This year, Michigan lost DeShawn Sims to graduation and Manny Harris to the NBA (Cavs) and now have what feels like an entirely new team.
Expectations for this season were very low with most picking the team last in the conference and three freshmen starters. Michigan has surprised a bit early on with its 11-4 record and some decent wins but they have yet to pick up a true quality win. The goal for this year appears to be the NIT as Michigan doesn't have the roster to compete with talented and experienced rosters at the top of the conference.
What is the identity of this Michigan team, what could make them dangerous?
As with most Beilein teams, it's the three point shot. Michigan shoots a lot of them and if they connect at a high rate they have the potential to be dangerous at any given time. Beyond shooting threes, Michigan exhibits most other traits of a perimeter oriented team; they don't turn the ball over often, don't pull down many offensive rebounds, and don't get to the line often. The problem is that they don't hit three point shots at a particularly high rate, just 34% for the year.
Who is the Wolverine player most likely to have that "out of his mind" game against the Jayhawks?
Six different players -- Darius Morris, Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jordan Morgan, and Evan Smotrycz -- have led Michigan in scoring at least once this season. Michigan has plenty of guys with the potential to have a big game but the bigger question is who can provide a big performance consistently. A lot of this has to do with three point shooting,
Douglass has been Michigan's most efficient three point shooter but Novak appears to have found his groove over the last two games as well. I would put my money on one of those two, more experienced, Wolverines to have a big game versus Kansas.
Michigan has been there before and things haven't quite been up to the same level for a little while now. Where do you think the disconnect is in the Michigan basketball program in terms of being back in the hunt for the Big 10 and back on the national stage?
Michigan basketball is kind of stuck in neutral. The program bottomed with NCAA sanctions and the Brian Ellerbe era, and it has been a slow journey up ever since. Tommy Amaker dug the program out of its own grave back to respectability but was never able to get over the NCAA tournament hump.
John Beilein took Michigan to the big dance during his second season and everyone thought things were moving in the right direction. Then last year happened and Michigan fans are left wondering where things go from here. Recruiting is trending upward but not dramatically and next year appears to be the season that Michigan could make a jump, especially with a number of the top players in the Big Ten graduating.
What do you expect the environment in Ann Arbor to be like with #3 Kansas coming to town? I suspect there's still a good student following up there.
It will be a big game atmosphere. Fan support for basketball is nothing like football, and student ticket sales are way down this year, but Crisler has the potential to have a great atmosphere when Michigan faces marquee opponents.
Michigan knocked off Duke at home two years ago and Connecticut last year (who obviously turned out mediocre) so they have proven they can knock off a big non conference opponent. In all likelihood it will be one of Michigan's best home crowds of the season.
Where do you think Kansas can do the most damage against Michigan offensively?
Michigan is so young on the interior that they will have trouble at the four and five spots. Defending the four is probably Michigan's biggest weakness defensively. 6-foot-9 Evan Smotrycz is a promising forward that can stretch the defense but he's not a seasoned defender and struggles versus stronger players.
The larger problem is that his backup is actually Michigan's starting two guard, 6-foot-4 Zack Novak. Novak has played the four almost exclusively during his first two seasons at Michigan and is a great rebounded but obviously is severely lacking in height and strength, making it tough to guard true big men at the four position.