2008-09 Michigan Basketball Preview: #72
Overall Rank: #72
Conference Rank: #7 Big Ten
2007-08: 10-22, 5-13, 9th
2007-08 postseason: none
The Coach John Beilein era did not start out very well. Michigan won just five conference games and ten games overall. The staff is still trying to fill the roster with their type of player, but things are getting better in Ann Arbor. However, they could not get much worse than last season.
The biggest loss is the transfer of Ekpe Udoh which leaves a hole in the frontcourt. The big man ranked third on the team with 6.0 points per game, second with 5.0 rebounds and first with 2.9 blocks. Not having Udoh under the basket on the defensive end will make a huge, huge difference. Ron Coleman was the only senior on the roster during the 2007-2008 campaign and he wrapped up his collegiate career averaging 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. Jerret Smith is also not returning after playing in just five contests last year.
Even on a team that does not lose many players, the newcomers are expected to play an important role for the Wolverines. None will be more important than Ben Cronin. The 7-0 center is a little raw offensively, but there will not be much of a choice for Coach Beilein when looking for a backup center. Cronin will be able to at least grab some rebounds and block some shots for now, but he does have a decent looking shot that could develop in the coming years. Eric Puls does not have bulk to be an effective center in the Big Ten, but the redshirt freshman could find some minutes at that position in a pinch. However, if he does see significant playing time it will likely be at the four spot. The Wolverines looked south to the state of Indiana to find a couple of shooters. And, of course, there is nowhere better to find a shooter than Indiana. Zack Novak is more than a pure shooter though; the 6-5 guard can get to the basket and finish effectively. Stu Douglass fits well into the system Michigan is implementing and could be a sharpshooting threat off the bench right away. Laval Lucas-Perry did not spend much time in the Arizona desert before heading back home to Michigan. The point guard does not lack toughness and, once he is eligible to play in December, will continue to develop into a solid floor leader.
Who to Watch:
The Maize and Blue have three players returning who averaged over 20 minutes per game during the 2007-2008 campaign. The trio of Manny Harris, DeShawn Sims and Kelvin Grady will have to step up even more this year and become leaders on and off the court. Harris is the scorer and averaged 16.1 points per game. Like the rest of the team, especially for a Coach Beilein team, Harris’ outside shooting needs to improve. Sims, a 6-8 forward, can hit the outside shot as well and is the only other legitimate scoring option on the team. Sims is a solid rebounder and a decent shotblocker, but his role needs to get even bigger this year without Udoh on the team. Grady is not a big scorer, although he is the team’s third returning scorer at 5.6 points per game, but his job is to handle the ball and find the scorers.
The number one thing on Grady’s list of things to do is to help find another scorer. Harris and Sims are fine scorers, but the team is in desperate need of a third option. Senior wing Jevohn Shepherd will have the opportunity and so will forwards Anthony Wright and Zack Gibson. All three of those guys started a few games here and there last season and now it is their time to step up and have a big year. But finding a third scoring threat is not the biggest problem. Even replacing the defense of Udoh might not be the biggest concern heading into the 2008-2009 season…the huge problem is the inconsistent three-point shooting. The team ranked last in the conference and 290th in the nation in three-point field-goal percentage and that is not acceptable for the style that Coach Beilein wants to play. If that number does not improve, even a more experienced Michigan squad will not be much better than they were last year.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Kelvin Grady, Sophomore, Guard, 5.6 points per game
Manny Harris, Sophomore, Guard, 16.1 points per game
Jevohn Shepherd, Senior, Forward, 3.5 points per game
DeShawn Sims, Junior, Forward, 12.3 points per game
Zack Gibson, Junior, Forward, 5.4 points per game