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Joe Stapleton: What did the Wolverines lose when they lost Manny?

Ariel Bond/Daily
Guard Manny Harris (#3) during Michigan's game against Indiana on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at Crisler Arena. Buy this photo

BY JOE STAPLETON
Daily Sports Editor
Published January 24, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE — It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth: Michigan coach John Beilein sealed the team’s fate in their game against Purdue on Saturday the minute he suspended Manny Harris from the game.

Without their go-to perimeter scorer and best player, the Wolverines suffered mightily on both ends of the court.

While the game was excruciating to watch for Michigan fans, I do think there’s a silver lining. Watching the game, it was obvious that Michigan relies a little too much on their star player. But looking at exactly how and where the Wolverines struggled without him could help us understand what has gone wrong this season and also prepare Michigan fans for what is almost certainly a Manny-less future.

The way I saw it, there were three major aspects of the game in which Michigan missed Manny, going a bit deeper than his obvious scoring ability:

Rebounding Specifically, long rebounds. Manny Harris is arguably the best rebounding guard in the Big Ten outside of Evan Turner, who’s pretty much a forward at 6-foot-7. There are a few reasons for this:

-Harris gives a crap every game. He has never mailed it in, and a lot of rebounding is just wanting the ball more than the other guy.

-He is also very, very athletically gifted. That’s pretty self-explanatory. How many times in Manny’s career have you seen him fly through the lane to grab a rebound over guys standing 6-foot-9 and over. If you answer wasn’t “innumerable,” you haven’t watched very many Michigan basketball games.

-He’s crafty. To grab rebounds as a guard, you have to be. He knows how to sit on bigger players’ legs so they can’t jump for a board, he knows how to hold players without drawing a foul, that kind of thing. There is a lot more science that goes into rebounding than many people realize, and Manny has a grasp on it.

-Harris has some of the best rebounding instincts I’ve ever seen for a guard. Ever since he was a freshman, Harris has had that knack for knowing where the ball is going to be the moment it leaves a shooter’s hands. You can’t teach that, and it might be his greatest asset.

Since Harris spends more of his time on the perimeter guarding smaller players than in the paint guarding big men, he is more ready to grab long rebounds than someone like DeShawn Sims, who’s stuck in the post. While the rebounding numbers against Purdue ended up being nearly identical (31-27, Purdue), there were definitely more than a few long rebounds in the second half that killed Michigan on the defensive glass. In fact, in the first half, Michigan allowed Purdue to grab seven offensive rebounds while the Wolverines couldn’t get one. One reason is that Sims couldn’t miss for most of the first half, but defensive rebounding killed Michigan, and I guarantee Manny grabs at least a few of them on the defensive glass.

Ballhandling This may sound a little weird, since Manny hasn’t handled significant point guard duties since last year, but the Wolverines really missed his ability to handle the ball against Purdue. They turned the ball over 15 times, nine times in the first half, thanks mostly to Purdue’s high-pressure man-to-man defense on the perimeter. That’s about four more than their average turnovers per game, and while that may seem like a small number, in yesterday’s game, the ballhandling struggles went beyond turnovers.

Bringing the ball up the court was either Stu Douglass or Darius Morris, a sophomore shooting guard and a freshman, respectively. They were hounded to such an extent by Purdue’s senior guards, Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer, the latter of whom is considered by many to the best defender in the Big Ten, that they became timid and focused mainly on protecting the ball instead of doing something with it.

The aim of Purdue’s defense was to get inside the heads of the Michigan guards on the perimeter, and that’s what happened. Thought to be fair, three of Morris’s four turnovers came in the first half. He started to get it and became more aggressive in the second half.

“That was unlike any pressure that we’ve seen all season,” Morris said after the game. “But at halftime, we made adjustments and we didn’t have as many turnovers as we did in the first half. I think we just learned a little too late, and by the time we learned it was the second half.”

While Manny Harris may not be the team’s premier ballhandler (he leads the team in turnovers with 50), he is never rattled by a defender in his face. He will continue to be aggressive no matter what, which is exactly what Michigan needed, especially in the first half while the rest of the team just watched Sims work in the post.


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