Dre's Blog: UM Hoops Maturing Before Our Eyes

GoBlueWolverine's Andre Barthwell looks back on a week that saw Michigan go 2-1 on the hardwood. Among the topics covered are the molding of Evan Smotrycz, the key role Stu Douglass and Zack Novak played in helping the team bounce back from the Indiana loss, and much much more.

The Manny Harris rule

Coach Beilein, in my opinion, is all about his kids being coachable and giving top effort at all times.  Those that don’t will take a seat on the bench. I call this the “Manny Harris rule.”  Beilein would rather go with guys that can be coached and are giving top effort then with uber-talented guys that won’t. When Manny wasn’t performing the way he should or not listening at various points in his career, Beilein sat him down the stretch in a few games.  I’m not mentioning this to knock Manny Harris.  He was young and had to learn how things are done.  I’m mentioning it to put what we’ve seen with Evan Smotrycz on a few occasions into proper perspective.

During the match-up with Minnesota last week, Beilein sat Smotrycz for most of the second half.   Michigan’s headman spoke afterward about his sophomore forward being frustrated and tired and cited that as the reason he sat him the last 11 minutes and 55 seconds.  While that may certainly may have been part of the reasoning, I don’t think it was all of it.  That belief was strengthened when we saw a similar scenario (though not as long) versus Wisconsin.  Against the Badgers it was apparent that Beilein was really working hard not to get all over Smotrycz. Case in point… when Evan threw a very soft pass that was stolen and taken in for a score, Beilein called timeout.  Beilein addressed the entire team, not just Smotrycz.  But afterward Beilein sat Evan for a while.  It seemed from the outside like Evan wasn’t displaying the consistent focus and intensity Beilein was looking for.  It’s clear that Smotrycz is extremely valuable to this team.  When he is on, he is a nightmare match up for the other teams’ bigs.  He just has learn the consistency he will have to play with in the more demanding role the coaching staff is looking for him to play on  this team.  I’m confident that he will get it.

Holding things together

Trey Burke really was the show in the Minnesota game for Michigan.  He put the team on his back when they needed him most. Even the coaches have to remind themselves at times that he is a freshman.  Said Beilein last week, "Trey's focus is really good in practice it is rare for a young player to play through bad plays from his teammates or himself and he does that.”

It may be cliché, but coaches repeat the following saying over and over again because it’s true… you play the way you practice.   Burke is performing to the standard he established in practice.  His Minnesota stats… 8/11 from the field 9/11 from the free throw line, three assists and two turnovers in 38 minutes are rendered even more impressive when one takes into account that no one else had it going he did. What I like most was he didn't go out of his way to score points.  Once again, as I have said before, he got all his points within the offensive flow of the game. When Minnesota was up 6-1 he scored 11 of Michigan's next 16 points to help his team pick things up.  Said Burke, "I just wanted to help my team so I tried to step things a little all of us were there chipping in to get us where we need to be.” Few youngsters understand when to defer and when to get their own.  This kid does.  When his teammates are feeling it, he finds them.  When they can’t throw a rock in the ocean, he picks up the slack.  If a freshman to consistently get praise at every press conference from Johns Beilein… he is definitely doing something right. He did a whole lot right in the victory over Wisconsin yesterday… which we will talk about shortly.


I thought the team bounced back really well after the Indiana loss and you can attribute that to the leaders on this team. Said Tim Hardaway, “Zack Novak and Stu Douglass made an effort to talk with us personally after the Indiana loss about how we played. Our team listens to them when they are talking.  No one takes it as criticism because they are trying to help us. That’s why they are our captains.  They have been in these situations before.” The dual messages of accountability and reassurance were/are crucial for a young team like Michigan’s (don’t forget that four of the five starters are freshmen or sophomores). Novak and Douglass instilled in their young teammates the confidence necessary to move past a tough loss and look to doing something about it in the next game. And before we move on to talking about the victory over Wisconsin... let’s talk one more second about the defeat at the hands of the Hoosiers. 

No, there are no such things as moral victories.  However, there are sometimes positives in defeat.  The grittiness the Wolverines showed in grinding back from double digit deficits on the road in a hostile environment against a squad that had already knocked of two of the country’s best teams is an extremely encouraging sign.  Many young teams would fold up like a tent in the face of such adversity.  Michigan kept grinding.  They couldn’t make the plays at the end when they had the opportunities, but all the ingredients that are necessary to be successful in similar situations in the future are there.

Defense and Rebounding

The Wisconsin game was one in which the Wolverines really showed they had some fight in them. They came out determined to meet the Badgers intensity on defense and on the glass. “It was a great team win,” Novak said afterward.  “The defense was outstanding… maybe the best we could have ever expected.  Everyone was engaged.  Everything the coaches told us to do we did it. We had to get the rebounds at the end of their possessions and it was key that we block out at the end of the shot clock.  If we did that we would really help our chances of winning.”

Jordan Morgan takes a lot of grief sometimes for not rebounding but he really crashed the boards with a purpose and also played solid defense. “We wanted to defend for 36 seconds block out and get the rebound and I thought we did a really good job of that,” Morgan stated.  “We talked about that in the locker room about our defense and rebound to focus on that it is what winning teams do.”

Morgan led the team with 11 rebounds, including five huge ones on offensive end, but it was Tim Hardaway’s 10 that really opened eyes.  He stayed focused early on to help give Michigan an advantage on the boards. It is a part of his game that he is working hard on in an effort to become a complete player.

Defensively, Trey Burke and Stu Douglass slowed the Big Ten and one of the country’s best point guards, Jordan Taylor.  They limited the Badger star to 12 points on 5/15 shooting.  At one point Douglass even stole the ball from Taylor at half court.  Burke was similarly ready for the match-up. 

“I was really looking forward to playing against Jordan,” said Burke.  “He is a really good player and those are the guys you like to play against.”

Despite going up against a stronger more experienced guard, I would certainly say Trey Burke won round one.

Two-point Proficiency

Michigan fans habitually lament the number of threes the Wolverines take… and sometimes the criticism is warranted.  That’s why said fans must have been pleased with some of what they saw on the offensive end versus Wisconsin. A lot of what Michigan scored on was plays inside the arc off of curls, midrange jumpers, and drives to the basket. They had their way with Wisconsin in that regard, so the Wolverine guards didn’t settle at all for long jumpers. It was all about getting into the lane or at the top of the key for a score and to get fouled. Burke, Novak, and Hardaway consistently were in lane for scores or free throws. Yes it was 59 points on 40% shooting, but the way the floor opened up for the offense is just how Coach Beilein envisions it. The Badgers were so worried about Michigan shooting the three that the Wolverines were able to put the ball on the deck for better shots.  More of that will hopefully be in the cards for the Maize & Blue moving forward.

That’s all for now up next Northwestern at home on Wednesday.

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