We continue our countdown to the tip off of the 2011-12 season, which for most of the Big Ten teams is still a few weeks away. November 11th seems to be a popular choice this season to start for most of the conference teams. Today we'll take a look at Michigan, a team that returns a ton of talented players but has a major hole to fill at Point Guard. Who will step up in that role? Will they improve on a 21 win season from a year ago? Let's look at what the Wolverines have to offer.
Conference Record/Finish: 9-9, tie for 4th place
Postseason: NCAA Tournament (3rd round, 71-73 L to Duke)
Head Coach: John Beilein - 5th year at Michigan (67-67) 618-385 overall in 33 years
Returning Starters: 4
- Tim Hardaway Jr., Sophomore, guard (13.9ppg, 3.8rpg, 59 assists)
- Jordan Morgan, Sophomore, forward (9.2ppg, 5.4rpg, 62%FG shooting)
- Zack Novak, Senior, guard (8.9ppg, 38%3pt shooting, 83%FT shooting, 5.8rpg)
- Evan Smotrycz, Sophomore, forward (6.3ppg, 2.3rpg) *started only 24 games
Newcomers: Carlton Bundidge, 6'2", 200lbs (Fr., guard), Trey Burke, 6'1", 175lbs (Fr., guard), Sai Tummala, 6'7" 200lbs. (Fr., forward), Max Bielfeldt, 6'8" 240lbs. (Fr. forward).
Over the past 4 years of the Beilein era it's been every other year for the Wolverines, at least in terms of NCAA tournament appearances. The 2011-12 Michigan squad must replace their best player from last year, Darius Morris (team high 15ppg average), who was a 2nd round NBA draft pick this year if it hopes to make a 2nd straight NCAA tournament appearance after a heartbreaking loss to Duke in the round of 32 last year. Michigan is hopeful that incoming freshman Trey Burke, a one time Penn State commit, can fill the void left by Morris. He is a scoring PG which is exactly what is neeed and comes in to the year ranked 98th by ESPN, 136th by Rivals, and the 22nd ranked PG by Scout in this recruiting class. They are still a very young team with Zack Novak being the only upperclassmen in the starting lineup to begin the season. On the plus side Novak and Tim Hardaway, Jr. have fomed a good working tandem and Hardaway should be much more of an effcient scoring threat (42% FG last year), at least early on with Morris gone and is more than capable of being the go to guy.
If this team is to be even more successful in 2011-12 they most avoid the peaks and valleys that happened last year. Michigan was able to roll off seven straight wins at one point in the non-conference schedule, but then went on to drop 7 of their next 8 games (6 of those conference games), before smoothing things out late in the season. They are hoping a year of experience for 3 of the starters will make a big difference and it very well could. It may really come in handy in close games, something the Maize 'N Blue were used to last year, having a scoring margin of only +4 (66.5ppg for and 62.5ppg against) in 2010-11.
What does the 2011-12 schedule hold for Michigan?
Non-Conference Schedule Highlights: Maui Invitational (Memphis, Tennessee/Duke, TBD), @ Virginia (B1G/ACC Challenge), vs. Iowa State
Reality is that this team may have struggles in the Maui Invitational 1st round against a very impressive Memphis program, but 1 or 2 victories should be well within reach at this tournament. The games against Virginia and Iowa State will be huge measuring sticks, especially at home against an Iowa State squad that is looking to punch an NCAA ticket as well this season. While there isn't a ton of hard non-conference games the Wolverines are doing just enough to challenge and gain confidence for this still somewhat young team, especially trying to break in a new PG.
Conference: the Wolverines have a fairly good start to the season, playing their 1st six games vs. Penn State, vs. Minnesota, @Indiana, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Northwestern, @ Iowa. The toughest stretch comes when they must play vs. Michigan State then on the road for 3 straight, starting with a non-conf. tilt @ Arkansas, then back in conference with games @ Purdue and @ Ohio State.
Realistically this is about as fair a start as you'll see in the Big Ten scheduling for a team looking to return to the NCAA tournament. Overall I see this team hanging right around the 20 or 22 win mark on the year and will need to improve on 9-9 in conference to get to that total. You'll find my full record and conference finish in our final look at the Big Ten Conference as a whole, but I can tell you that I don't see a 9-9 finish this year in conference play for Michigan.