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Here's a team that, in Coach Beilein's second year, made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The first time in 11 years they had actually gone to the tournament. His third year was a disappointment. He lost his senior leadership and no one stepped up to fill that role. This year, the major scoring threats from those two teams, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, have moved on to play in the NBA and D-League respectively.
Michigan fans, and basketball experts alike, don't have this team doing much this season. Beilein's got a lot of new faces playing major minutes. His team is young. The two senior leaders, Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, aren't even seniors. Two true freshmen and one redshirt freshmen are currently starting alongside a sophomore and a junior. In addition, they are playing in, arguably, the strongest conference this year. Some have as many as 8 teams from the big ten making the NCAA Tournament this year, Michigan is never one of them.
I don't expect this team to compete for the big ten championship, but I believe they will be far more competitive than most "experts," think. This isn't going to be like Coach Beilein's first year, where he was trying to teach his players new schemes they had never seen before. So far this season, this team has played well together. Their defense has been solid and although they haven't found a consistent offensive rhythm they are doing well enough to stay in games; they kept with a top 15 Syracuse team in their early season tournament and were able to beat Clemson on the road. This team still lives and dies by the three pointer. Unfortunately, they are not hitting enough consistently to get an offensive rhythm.
Darius Morris (above) has shown the improvement we heard about in the off-season and Jordan Morgan (below) has been playing well at center. Stu Douglass is leading the team, making nearly 50% of his threes this season. Zack Novak has seen his scoring and rebounding numbers go up now that he isn't forced to guard guys with 6 inches and 20 pounds on him. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz, our two talented true freshmen, have shown flashes but have lacked consistency . If we continue to play good defense and can improve shot selection/shooting percentage, this will be a dangerous team. Regardless they will be interesting to watch and I expect more pleasant surprises than unpleasant ones. Come see them play the Utah Utes Friday Night at Crisler Arena 6:30PM.