Posted on: March 20, 2011 5:32 pm
Edited on: March 20, 2011 5:46 pm

Michigan could return to its glory days

Posted by Jeff Borzello

If Darius Morris’ runner in the lane against Duke wasn’t his final shot in a Michigan uniform, expect the Wolverines to be back – and better – next season.

After Michigan’s great comeback against Duke, in which the Wolverines went on a 15-4 run in the final six minutes to give themselves a chance to win, the last thing on its mind is next season. However, against the Blue Devils, Michigan showed why it will be such a highly-touted team to begin next season.

To start, the Wolverines play a 1-3-1 zone defense that makes them difficult to beat on a consistent basis. John Beilein has players that are willing to defend and execute the zone to perfection.

What should have Michigan fans excited for next season is the fact that there is not a single senior on the roster. This season, Morris developed into one of the nation’s best point guards, showing tremendous passing ability and the potential to be a go-to scorer. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a bonafide second scorer, while Jordan Morgan was a pleasant surprise down low. Morgan runs the floor and is only getting better. Zach Novak, Stu Douglass and Matt Vogrich are good perimeter shooters.

Beilein is also bringing into two more perimeter players next season, led by undersized scorer Carlton Brundidge. Brundidge has unlimited range and the ability to create his own shot. Trey Burke is another player who can score, but he is also capable of running the offensive and finding players.

The key to next season could be Evan Smotrycz. He averaged only six points per game this season, but he showed flashes of his potential at various points this season. Smotrycz went for 13 points against Duke and scored in double-figures in eight other games. He is an inside-outside player who creates match-up problems with his skill set.

The primary weaknesses for Michigan this season were inside depth and lack of players who can create their own shots. Players like Jon Horford, who had an impressive finish-and-foul against Duke, need to step up down low, while the additions of Brundidge and Burke will help the lack of creativity offensively.

Next year’s team will have guards who attack, shooters who can spread the floor, frontcourt production and a consistent defense. It’s the perfect recipe for a successful John Beilein team.

If Morris returns to build off a tremendous sophomore season, don’t be surprised to see Michigan go a couple of rounds further in next year’s NCAA tournament.

Photo: US Presswire

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 20, 2011 5:27 pm
Edited on: March 20, 2011 6:55 pm

Duke narrowly claims Coach K's 900th victory

Posted by Eric Angevine

Charlotte -- For those of you who snoozed through the four second-round games in the Charlotte pod, how you like us now?

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won his 900th game -- just two short of tying his mentor Bob Knight for the all-time mark -- by winning in pressure-packed Time Warner Cable Arena. Duke fans in attendance were nearly matched in intensity and ferocity by Wolverine backers who smelled an upset. The final score, Duke 73-Michigan 71, tells only some of the story of how close that milestone bid came to 'wait until next year' status.

The Michigan Wolverines had a shot to tie at the buzzer despite losing 6-foot-9 Evan Smotrycz to a fifth foul with a whopping 6:25 left in the game. With four players 6-5 or below on the floor behind 6-8 freshman Jordan Morgan, the maize and blue never gave up, cutting the Duke lead, which had been as high as 12 points, to a single point with 8.7 seconds left in the game. Darius Morris' runner bounced free, and the loose rebound was never corralled.

The height differential definitely hurt the Wolverines, who had to contend with a frontcourt rotation that featured both 6-10 Plumlee brothers, 6-8 Kyle Singler, and 6-9 Ryan Kelly. The Wolverines had just four offensive rebounds through 40 minutes of play. They offset that size with quick hands (7 steals as a team) and hot shooting (50.9 percent from the floor, including 33 percent from deep). Mike Krzyzewski went with a smaller lineup of Andre Dawkins, Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith, Singler and Kelly in crunch time in an effort to stanch the flow of points from Michigan's guards.

Duke was led by Nolan Smith's 24 points in 38 minutes. Kyle Singler (13 points), Kyrie Irving and Ryan Kelly (11 points each) also scored in double figures for the Blue Devils.

The Wolverines put forth a balanced effort, with Darius Morris scoring 16, Tim Hardaway, Jr. going for 15, and Smotrycz hitting for 13 before he had to sit. Jordan Morgan pitched in 10 points, including a dramatic driving dunk, when forced to take over for Smotrycz. Guard Zack Novak had 12 points and played all 40 minutes for the Wolverines.

Michigan fell short this year, but served notice that next season will be a whole different affair.

Duke advances to the Sweet 16 in Anaheim to play the winner of No. 4 Texas vs. No. 5 Arizona. That game tips at 6:10 p.m. ET on TNT.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 19, 2011 5:50 pm
Edited on: March 20, 2011 4:39 pm

Enough 'Fab Five' talk, there is a game to play

Posted by Chip Patterson
March 19, 2011

CHARLOTTE - As a lifelong fan of college basketball, I enjoyed ESPN's documentary on the Fab Five. I enjoyed it because it was well-made, and brought back memories of a basketball and social phenomenon that changed the game.  But that documentary has nothing to do with the 2010-2011 editions of Duke or Michigan. In fact when the Fab Five were unveiling their black socks, many of the participants in Sunday's matchup were not even born yet.

So why are are the players and coaches still having to answer questions over and over again about the documentary, when the tip-off of their third round matchup is less than 24 hours away.

"I didn't watch the documentary," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski as he fielded yet another question about the ESPN documentary. "It really has absolutely nothing to do with this game and does not -- if I have to be motivated by something else for an NCAA -- this is my 101st NCAA game. Do you think I need motivation from a documentary?"

No this is just a game between two teams that have been playing very well. Duke, obviously fresh off an ACC Tournament Championship, switched into another gear after losing two of their last three games in the regular season. They have turned it up on the defensive end and outscored their opponents by an average of 19.75 points per game since losing to North Carolina in the regular season finale. Oh yeah, and they re-introduced freshman phenom Kyrie Irving into the lineup.

Michigan has been quietly flying below the radar as one of the more dangerous teams in the tournament as well. The Wolverines have won five out of their last seven contests, only falling to 53-52 to Wisconsin and 68-61 to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. So many teams wrote off the Wolverines when they started conference play 1-6, but that underdog mentality has helped them turn around their season.

"I think we definitely love it. We embrace it completely, said Michigan guard Stu Douglass. "I think if you don't embrace it -- if we hadn't embraced it this year, we wouldn't be where we are. Kind of been an advantage since I've gotten [here]."

When Michigan is playing good basketball (which they have been), they can be very difficult to scheme against on both sides of the floor. On defense, their 1-3-1 zone can make life difficult when opponents are trying to find open space in their offensive sets. On offense, they run a 2-3 set with a lot of cutting and screening, constantly trying to beat teams on the back door. The only teams that have played Duke like that are Princeton and Virginia Tech. The latter was one of only four teams to defeat Duke this season.

So why is the focus of Sunday's game about a rivalry that existed 20 years ago? The players don't seem to concerned, nor the coaches. I believe Duke will emerge victorious, but the Wolverines have come to make a statement about the players on the floor. Not the ones on the documentary.

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Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:49 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 8:16 pm

With distractions abundant, UT 'just quit'

Posted by Chip Patterson
March 18, 2011

CHARLOTTE - After a week of distractions regarding head coach Bruce Pearl's job security, it was a relief to finally get the student-athletes on the floor and let the basketball do the talking. Unfortunately the message his Tennessee team sent with their play was one of a defeated team. As they failed to rally from a second half defect and eventually fell to Michigan 75-45.

Tennessee forced the issue early, taking advantage of a Michigan frontline that could not compete with Tennessee's strength and size. Freshman forward Tobias Harris exploded for 19 points on 6-6 shooting and converted all seven free throw attempts in the first half. Tennessee clearly made Michigan guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. a priority, with Cameron Tatum shadowing his every move on the defensive end.

All eyes were centered on Pearl, and there he was screaming out offensive and defensive assignment with large arm motions and his familiar stomp. So basically it was just another game for the head coach of the Volunteers.

Michigan caught fire near the end of the first half driven by back-to-back threes after starting the half shooting 1 for 9 from deep. Pearl remained calm on the bench, but the frustrated look on Cameron Tatum's face after another missed opportunity showed the Volunteers getting sluggish. With less than 30 seconds remaining, Harris changed that all with a slam dunk of a Brian Williams assist.  Michigan quickly drove the length of the floor as Darius Morris converted on a hook shot just before the buzzer.  It was the perfect momentum swinger before the break, and the beginning of the end for the Volunteers.

Then the Wolverines came out of the halftime break with hopes of landing a knockout punch early. They brought the Big Blue faithful to their feet with a 21-4 run in the first eight minutes of the half. Tennessee struggled to answer any of Michigan's challenges. It was difficult to figure out whether it was Tennessee's inability to fire themselves up or cool the Wolverines, but the Volunteers looked helpless as they fell into a 14 point deficit by the first official timeout.

By the midpoint of the second half, the Volunteers had begun to lose their will.  The Wolverines calmly milked a significant double-digit lead while the Volunteers defeated themselves possession after possession. Being outworked on the boards, Tennessee was outrebounded 35-24 by a team which they could have easily overpowered inside. When it was time for Tennessee to dig in deep and mount a comeback, they took poor jump shots and added to their count of 18 turnovers.

So what does that reflect about their head coach? This could have been any other two teams in the tournament and you would have doubted the team's preparation. But with this specific case for Tennessee, it is the first spot you put the blame.  When the media began questioning a somber Volunteer bunch regarding their coach after the game, they did not shy away from the controversy caused by athletic director Mike Hamilton.

"Of course it was a distraction, off-court and what not," remarked senior guard Melvin Goins. "But it is our responsibility as players to step up."

Junior guard Scotty Hopson also put the responsibility on the veteran players, for not pulling the unit together as a team. As for freshman Tobias Harris' explanation of the meltdown against Michigan?

"We just quit," Harris answered plainly.

What will likely get lost in the mix is a phenomenal run by Michigan to start the half. The Wolverines have shown how dangerous they can be recently, entering Friday's contest having won seven of their last ten. But even with Tatum stuck to Tim Hardaway, Jr. like glue, Michigan found production elsewhere on the floor.

Michigan head coach John Beilein deserves a ton of credit for getting his team ready to knockout a beaten giant. After all Tennessee has been to the NCAA tournament all six years under Pearl's tenure, reaching the Sweet Sixteen four times. Beilein, in just his fourth season as head coach of the Wolverines has already gotten Big Blue to the tournament twice.  Considering the issues surrounding the program in the last two decades, Beilein's early success is reason for Wolverine fans to believe in hoops once again.

Beilein now returns to the floor, wondering how he can figure out a way to beat Duke. Bruce Pearl, on the other hand, returns to Knoxville. His challenge is far different: figure out a way to keep his job.

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Posted on: March 18, 2011 8:41 am
Edited on: March 18, 2011 10:51 am

Charlotte pod ready to shift to on-court drama

Kyrie Irving looks ready to go in Charlotte

Posted by Eric Angevine

Sometimes, a prevailing attitude or emotion becomes most notable by its absence.

That's what happened this morning when I got on an elevator at the Charlotte Marriott with a couple who were conspicuously not dressed in team gear. When they began to speak to one another in German, I had an epiphany: these people had no idea what was going on here.

They don't care that Kyrie Irving is ready to play today. A discussion of Bruce Pearl's job status would likely elicit a shrug, or a puzzled smile. Their brackets aren't busted.

They were perfectly nice people, but I couldn't wait to get out of the elevator bubble and back with my people. The low-key Michiganders searching for coffee and wondering if the 1-3-1 trap can contain Scotty Hopson. The burly men in red and black Georgia golf visors. Heck, even the purple-clad people of Washington, who allegedly find me less than personable after I chose the Huskies as a possible 2nd-round upset victim a few days ago.

This pod, perhaps more than any other, has been full of off-court drama. Pearl getting a vote of no-confidence from his AD right before his first game of the tournament. Coach K springing Kyrie Irving's availability after weeks of rehab on us after we already filled out our brackets. Those are all great stories, and they've kept us occupied while we wait, but today, for a few hours, we'll shift our focus from the big picture to the small. We'll parse out who's feeling it according to our own lights. Fans of the Hampton Pirates and Long Island Blackbirds will leap, fist-pump, gyrate and pray that their teams will make history in dramatic fashion.

Thursday showed us what the rest of this month will be like. Enough waiting. We're ready.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 17, 2011 6:17 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2011 7:01 pm

UT's off-court issues could affect on-court focus

Posted by Chip Patterson

CHARLOTTE - Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl stammered his way through the mandatory news conference on Thursday, trying to redirect attention towards the Volunteers' matchup with Michigan the next day. But media members in attendance had little interest in getting answers on Pearl's plan to stop Tim Hardaway, Jr.

"I know there's going to be a lot of questions regarding my status, so I'll address that first and then we'll move on to questions," Pearl said as he opened his time with the media.

But there was no moving on. Just as the players were, Pearl was grilled from all directions on his job security. All of this of course stemming from athletic director Mike Hamilton's comments to a local radio station. When asked if Pearl would coach next season, Hamilton said "we don't know that answer today."

Pearl is scheduled to defend himself in front of the NCAA infractions committee in June. There he will plead his case as to why providing false/misleading information to the NCAA does not deserve the harshest of punishments. Pearl said something particularly interesting when asked if he foresaw himself as the Volunteers head coach at that hearing.

"You know up until recently, I would," Pearl answered. "That's still the case. The announcement was I'm going to be evaluated, and so how much of a departure from what's been said, I'll find out when I get evaluated."

But how will all these distractions effect the Volunteers against Michigan tomorrow. The players could not dodge the question, no matter how hard they tried. They all say the focus is there, but there is certainly room to doubt. However, when asked, the players do seem to believe Pearl's job is safe.

"I fully anticipate Coach Pearl to be back next year," said junior guard Cameron Tatum. "As all my teammates said earlier, we can only worry about controlling what we do in between those lines and focus on our preparation for the game."

The players are saying all the right things, that's for sure. But if there was an "intangibles" advantage heading into tomorrow afternoon's second round tip (12:40 ET, truTV), it definitely favors the Wolverines.
Posted on: March 12, 2011 8:33 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 8:35 am

Saturday's Big Ten matchups unexpected

Very few people likely had Ohio State vs. Michigan and Michigan State vs. Penn State as their two Big Ten semifinal matchups before the tournament started. However, those are exactly the games we are going to get on Saturday in the Big Ten conference tournament semifinals.

The first game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines does follow seeding, but still comes as somewhat of a surprise. The Buckeyes looked exceedingly vulnerable in their first round win over Northwestern. Unlike in the past couple of weeks, when ball movement and top-notch passing had been the signature strengths of their team, Ohio State only had three assists for the entire game against Northwestern and too often looked stagnant on the offensive end. Thad Matta had expressed just how happy he was with his team's development coming into the Big Ten tournament, but Saturday's game will tell us whether the Friday performance was simply an aberration or a sign of potential problems that could be creeping in.

Ohio State's opponent Michigan, comes in having likely assured itself of a NCAA tournament berth and can now focus on trying to play a good game against its rival. The Wolverines have been terrible against Ohio State over the past few years, but this season both games have been competitive. John Beilein has gotten a good one-two scoring punch from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris, the latter of which was great in the victory over Illinois on Friday. If Michigan is to have any chance of pulling the upset, both players must be able to score effectively and find a way to limit the possessions of the big guys down low for Ohio State. In both prior losses, interior points have been the difference and that will once again have to be the focus for Michigan.

In the second semifinal, the story is all about Michigan State and the resurgence once again under Tom Izzo in March. Coming into the Big Ten tournament, it wasn't even clear that the Spartans were assured a berth in the NCAA tournament. But as always, Izzo has his team playing the best when it matters the most. Kalin Lucas was brilliant against Purdue on Friday, scoring 30 points in an absolute embarrassment of a team that still considered itself to be an outside contender for a No. 1 seed. As with all Izzo teams, this Spartan group has turned up the March heat by ramping up defensive intensity and making fewer mistakes. It has been a recipe for success in the first two games of this tournament and with a win on Saturday, could get Michigan State back to an unlikely conference title game.

As for Penn State, the upset win against Wisconsin was probably (a) the ugliest game in the history of organized basketball and (b) enough to get the Nittany Lions in the NCAA tournament. The game on Friday night featured the fewest possessions of any college basketball game since 1998...an amazing statistic that showcases just bizarre a game it actually was to watch. But all that matters to Penn State's players and coaches is the result, and with the win the entire postseason has opened up. A win over Michigan State would remove all doubt as to the team's future, and because the Lions only scored 36 points on Friday night, they should have plenty of energy left to score the necessary points on Saturday.

Posted by Matt Jones

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Posted on: March 12, 2011 3:12 am
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