Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Agony That Is Michigan Basketball

Another game, another excrutiating loss for the Boys in Maize & Blue. Michigan fell to rival Ohio St. last night in Columbus 65-55. What started out so promising turned into a painful double-digit loss.

Michigan stayed close the entire game, in fact holding the lead for a large portion of the game. However, the success was more of a mirage than anything. The only reason they stayed as close as they did was because Ohio St. played so poorly.

Ohio St.'s best players, Kosta Koufos (4-13) and Jamar Butler (4-12), shot bad enough that Michigan was able to hang around. Butler was at least able to contribute nine assists and key late-game three over Ekpe Udoh. But, the Buckeyes also turned it over 13 times against a Michigan team that isn't exactly a defensive power. Freshman guard Evan Turner was the main culprit with four turnovers --- compared to his zero points and 14 minutes.

With Koufos and Butler held in check most of the game, one would think the Wolverines could take charge and build a lead, right? Sadly, that was not the case. Much like Ohio St., Michigan's stars didn't come to play either. Manny Harris, the leader of the players-only meeting Monday that was supposed to pump up the team, scored only seven points in 35 minutes. DeShawn Sims had six on 2-7, and Ron Coleman could only manage three on 1-8.

Thankfully, and quite surprisingly considering every other game this year, Michigan's supporting cast provided some offense. Kelvin Grady, Jevohn Shepherd, and Anthony Wright combined for 25 points on 8-16 shooting. Of those three, Grady's contributions are the only ones likely to continue.

Another problem is our utter lack of inside scoring. Othello Hunter, more of a Horace Grant than a Greg Oden, had 15 and 12 against Michigan's soft interior. Sims is a wing masquerading as PF this year; Zach Gibson is not nearly strong enough to defend Big 10 centers; Udoh is really our best defender inside, but his shot-blocking passion sometimes puts him out of position to defend properly.

That problem extends to offense as well, because Sims and Gibson are more jump-shooters than post-up players. Udoh, again, is our best player down low, but his footwork and post moves are not yet dependable enough. This leaves our guards and wings to launch threes until their arms fall off. Michigan leads the conference in three-point attempts, while our actual 3FG% is 10th! If that's the way our offense is going to run, there is no reason to think we can win any close games. As soon as the shots stop falling, our offense collapses. Sadly, most of our games begin like this, leaving little doubt as to the game's outcome.

Our record sitting at 1-9 in conference, I've taken to looking ahead to next year already. But, unless these players dramatically change their games in the offseason, something I've seen very little of from past Michigan players, we're staring at another losing season. The only players guaranteed to leave are Coleman and David Merritt. Neither player will be missed as Coleman should never have been more than a bit bench player and Merritt was a walk-on who should not have been forced to play major minutes. Our starting lineup will once again feature Sims, Grady, Harris, and Udoh. Those four seem to be a solid core to build around. They're all versatile and athletic, but they need to work on their shooting and not turning the ball over. Coming off the bench will be Gibson, Shepherd, and Anthony Wright again. They will be joined by transfer Laval Lucas-Perry in January. Incoming freshmen include 7'0" center Ben Cronin, who looks to be a project, and 6'2" shooter Stuart Douglass. Again, though, unless our inside players bulk up and defend better, we'll be exposed once more.

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