Dion Harris has labored through a very rough patch as of late. His numbers have dipped and he is playing about as poorly as he ever has. However, is he the real reason why the Wolverines are struggling?
Coming off of a late season surge after being inserted into the starting lineup at the end of last year, Dion Harris appeared poised to have a breakout sophomore campaign. Heading into the year he spoke of playing off the ball much more and how he thought he would take his game to the next level. That, of course, was before the news that his backcourt mates (Daniel Horton and Lester Abram) would be missing from the lineup the majority of the year. Now as Michigan's only established perimeter player, Harris has to get the team into its offense, take most of the shots from the outside, and take over the majority of the ball handling duties.
Without his talented cohorts at his side, it has been all the more difficult to find open looks and deal with constant barrages of pressure as he brings the ball up court. Though he has a great deal of responsibility in his increased role, the man trying to mold Dion indicated that the former Mr. Basketball may be trying to do a little too much at times. "Pressing could be it," Michigan Coach Tommy Amaker said of why Harris may be struggling. "Trying too hard. Sometimes he has the tendency that if he doesn't make some shots…he drops his head and gets down on himself. Sometimes you can try so hard that you make the situation worse. But those are some of the things that we are going to try to get to the bottom of as we move forward."
That Harris has taken the role upon himself without making excuses for his recent struggles is what many have come to expect from him. Furthermore, if he wishes to become an All-Big Ten caliber player, that is the type attitude he HAS to continue to have. He could very well get there before his college days are over, but he has not attained that status yet. That is not an excuse for his play of late. It is a realization that distributes the responsibility for what happens on the court a little more evenly across the board. Amaker alluded to that very issue when addressing the media last week about making lineup changes and sitting some of his front line players for extended periods of time.
"He is not playing very well right now," Amaker said of Harris. "He is not the only one right now, obviously. You have some more bodies to rotate through there [up front] with Courtney, Brent, Graham, and Chris…you're going to go with guys in an emergency moment. You don't have a lot of time to massage things. We're hoping that Courtney can find that again. He certainly needs to be a part of this…and we need him. Certainly we need Courtney and we need Dion. We need all of them."
In the absence of Abram and Horton, that Michigan needs "all of them" could not be more true. One would think that the void left by the two aforementioned players would cause the emphasis of the offensive attack to switch to the post. That obviously has been the gameplan. If that is the case, then, why has it not been successful? Why is it that in an area that the Wolverines seem to have such a distinct advantage, they have not been able to capitalize?
Before the majority of the blame is hastily shifted to the post, we must first remeber that this is a team sport. The cliché' "we win as a team and we lose as a team" certainly applies here. One very obvious improvement all of the perimeter players can make is in feeding the post and getting the big men the ball on time. That said, the perimeter players are not responsible for the lapses in defense and rebounding that have plagued the interior.
It is not a problem of skill level, because the post players at Michigan are very talented. It isn't a question of effort either, because it's obvious to this observer that the players on this team are still trying. It is, however, a matter of passion and fire. It is a matter of the tenaciousness that is often exhibited by some of the players on the team, but not by all of them. That does not seem to be a trait that that can be coached into athletes (at least not at this stage in their careers). That said, a player can make a conscious decision to bring it out of himself. Harris, for one, has been doing just that.
"It's hard knowing that guys are out and knowing how much the team needs you." Michigan's second year wing said. "I think for the last games I've just got to try to lead as best as I can. Obviously that's what the team is lacking. We don't have guys that can get us together out there on the court when teams are basically playing better than us for long stretches of time. We don't have anybody to kind of bring us together and say, 'hey...lets go!' When I say lead I mean just make the team go. It is scoring, getting other people to score, defending, and getting out there and really playing hard defense. I don't think anyone is really setting that example for us out there on the floor…vocally or playing wise."
Much of what Michigan does the rest of the season will be dictated by what happens down low. While it is true that Harris has to play better, there is a symbiosis between how he performs and what happens in the post. The team as a whole would undoubtedly be helped by the return of Daniel Horton, but that is not something that they can count on at this point. That being the case, it imperative that ALL of the players on the team use this situation as an opportunity to bring to the table some of the things that they haven't on any consistent basis up to this point. That is not necessarily a reference to how many points said player or players score. It speaks just as much to them playing with the fire and desire that prevents some of the lopsided outcomes that have occurred as of late. At this point in Michigan's journey, HOW they lose matters just as much as whether they lose at all.
As in most struggles in which multiple people are involved, blame can be spread around. There are surely areas in which every member of the team, from the top down, can obviously improve. Everyone involved working to figure out and acknowledge those areas is the only route to being a better team when this is all over.
"It's up us to look inside ourselves and say we are going to do something." - Dion Harris
For more on this topic, listen to the replay of the GoBlueWolverine Radio Hour, set to be uploaded tomorrow.