Michigan Wolverines (Last Year: 22-14, 9-9 in Big Ten)
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
F/C: Jordan Morgan (So)/Jon Horford (So)/Blake McLimans (Jr)
F: Evan Smotrycz (So)/Colton Christian (So)/Max Bielfeldt (Fr)
SG: Zach Novak (Sr)/Eso Akunne (Jr)
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr. (So)/Matt Vogrich (Jr)/Carlton Brundidge (Fr)
PG: Stu Douglas (Sr)/Trey Burke (Fr)
Gone: PG-Darius Morris, SG-Jordan Dumars
After suffering through some growing pains with a very young roster, John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines matured late in the season, nearly knocking off Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. With everybody but Darius Morris returning, Michigan figures to make some serious noise in the Big Ten this season.
As always is the case with a Beilein-coached team, the Wolverines will play a smaller lineup, relying on their perimeter play and three-point shooters to space the floor. Michigan shot 757 triples during the regular season, 15th most in Division-I and that trend should continue this season.
Leading the charge will be All-Big Ten Freshman Team honoree Tim Hardaway Jr. He really came on at the end of the season developing into a versatile wing scorer. If Hardaway Jr. continues to improve, he could end up being one of the top scorers in the conference.
Senior Stu Douglas and Zach Novak are hard-nosed players who play bigger and tougher than their respective 6-3 and 6-4 heights. Douglas likely takes over the ball-handling responsibilities due to Darius Morris' decision to enter the NBA Draft. Freshman Trey Burke will provide depth at the point. Douglas and Novak are outside threats who can spread defenses along with Matt Vogrich who is the team's top three-point shooter and will bring a scoring punch off the bench.
Jordan Morgan was another All-Big Ten Freshman Team member and provided the Wolverines with a legit inside presence. He has only scratched the surface and should make more of an impact in the paint. Jon Horford, the young brother of the Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford, is an athletic big man who should be much improved from last season.
Evan Smotrycz is the prototypical forward for Jon Beilein. At 6-9, he can step out and shoot the ball from distance but does not provide much of an inside presence. Smotrycz often plays the five for Michigan which puts them at a disadvantage on the glass, but gives them a unique weapon on the offensive end. If Blake McLimans and Colton Christian can step up from the little they provided during their freshman campaigns, it will make this team even deeper and more effective up front.
Since they usually play an undersized, four-guard lineup, the Wolverines will once again run a lot of zone looks with Beilein's usual 1-3-1 attempting to cause problems and force opponents out of their offensive rhythm.
More than likely, Michigan will live and die with the three ball but do have other weapons to keep them in games when their outside shot is not falling. The Big Ten as a whole is not nearly as loaded with veteran teams as it was last year and the Wolverines could compete for the conference championship if Ohio State or Wisconsin falter.
Player to Watch: Tim Hardaway Jr., SG
Coming off a terrific freshman season, Hardaway Jr. played a vital role for the U.S. U-19 team this summer which should serve as a valuable experience. With Morris gone, Hardaway Jr. will become the focal point of the Michigan offense and was named to the Wooden Award Preseason Watchlist. The Wolverines won't solely rely on the sophomore shooting guard, but he will have to reach an even higher level with his game for Michigan to be in the Big Ten title hunt.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/21 vs. Memphis (Maui Invitational)
11/22 vs. Duke/Tennessee (Maui Invitational)
11/24 vs. Kansas/Georgetown/UCLA/Chaminade (Maui Invitational)
Will the broncos realistically be able to snag Zach Cunningham like you're predicting? This is a dream scenario for me as he's my favorite true Inside Linebacker in this draft. I see him coming off almost everyone's day 2 mock draft super early besides yours. He's had tackling issues when coming from behind and doesn't have that elite speed but...will he really drop that far? Oh I've never been so excited for round 2 of the nfl draft!!! Thoughts?