Column: With Manny Harris gone, are the Wolverines doomed?

Torehan Sharman/Daily
Michigan guard Manny Harris against Iowa in Crisler Arena on Jan 30 2010. Buy this photo

BY JOE STAPLETON AND NICOLE AUERBACH
Daily Sports Editors
Published March 29, 2010

We saw the signs, we heard the chants. We know you all wanted Manny Harris to stay at Michigan for his senior season. We know that behind the “one more year” chorus was a fear, a worry that maybe the basketball team would redefine the word ‘struggle’ without its star player.

Let’s discuss what Manny’s departure actually means:

The apocalype is coming:

The Wolverines lose their leading scorer, their go-to guy over the past three years. Sure, his numbers were slightly down this year and he barely made third team All-Big Ten, certainly a step down from previous seasons.

But as he showed in what is now officially his final game at Michigan — the Ohio State heartbreaker in the Big Ten Tournament — he's capable of singlehandedly taking over a game and putting his team in position to win it.

Harris was also the guy opposing defenses keyed on and tried to shut down, which opened up teammates when Harris drove and dished.

Paired with the graduation of senior forward DeShawn Sims, Harris’s departure isn’t just unfortunate — it’s potentially apocalyptic.

Who were Michigan’s two leading scorers this year? … Drumroll, please.

After Harris and Sims, who was the third-leading scorer?

Current sophomore Zack Novak, with seven points per game. That’s right — seven.

The fact is, Harris and Sims were the only two Wolverines who could create their own shots. They were playmakers in the truest sense of the word. Now that they’re gone, Michigan is left with a roster full of complementary players.

That’s not a dig at Novak or sophomore Stu Douglass or freshman Matt Vogrich. They are all very capable players and could surprise people next year. But from what we’ve seen out of them so far, it doesn’t look like any of them are ready to carry the scoring load like Harris or Sims did.

One player who could step into the playmaker role is freshman Darius Morris. The California native showed flashes of big-time ability last year.

But that’s the problem: Going into next year, there are no sure things.

Will the shooting improve next year? The players who are supposed to be the team’s best shooters seemed to be cursed at times this year, and who’s to say that won’t happen again?

Will this year’s redshirt freshmen, Blake McLimans and Jordan Morgan, step up next year and be able to bang in the post? Can Morgan, who has been plagued by injuries his first year, stay healthy?

All freshmen not named John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are essentially toss-ups, and that rule holds true for the recruiting class Beilein has coming in next year. Even the class isn't entirely secured, as Michigan is still waiting on a decision from one of the state’s premier talents, Trey Zeigler.

The bottom line: Harris leaving early leaves Michigan without its two leading scorers and without a proven playmaker.

It could be a very long year, to say the least.

Everything's not lost:

The average Michigan fan’s reaction: We’re fucked.

It’s understandable. The Wolverines struggled this year with two of the best players they've had in years (the other being DeShawn Sims, who is graduating), so they’re guaranteed to be terrible without them, right?

Wrong.

Yes, Michigan will miss Manny. No, there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the team ready to step in and fill the scoring role Harris and Sims have vacated. This means Michigan will have a hard time especially early in the season.

But this doesn’t mean the Wolverines are doomed.

Here’s the thing: Michigan coach John Beilein didn’t recruit Harris or Sims. They were former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker’s recruits. While Beilein came to Michigan with two really, really talented players, they weren’t necessarily ideal for his system, which meant he had to make adjustments.

Think of the stars Beilein had at West Virginia, like Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle. Both of those players were talented, but they also fit perfectly into Beilein’s system, one that is predicated on shooting and high basketball IQ. Even the center in Beilein’s system needs to be able to step out and hit shots with all the time he spends on the perimeter.

Beilein tried to mold both Harris and Sims to fit into his system. Harris played point guard for most of his sophomore campaign, and Sims steadily moved outside his junior and senior years, finally becoming a consistent threat from beyond the arc midway through this year.

But in the end, it wasn’t meant to be. Harris is a guy who needs the ball in his hands to make a difference. That isn’t a bad thing — there are few players in the country better than Harris at creating their own shot off the dribble and drawing fouls — it just means that he was never going to truly fit Beilein’s system. And near the end of this year, Beilein realized Sims is at his best in the low post, where he’s one of the most creative players around.

Now, Beilein doesn’t exactly have the Fab Five coming in next year, but he has some exciting players who seem to fit into his system. Evan Smotrycz out of the New England Prep League is a 6-foot-9 forward who can shoot and play the wing; Tim Hardaway Jr. out of Miami is a lights-out shooter who averaged more than 30 points per game this year; Jon Horford out of Grand Ledge, Michigan’s most recent commit and brother of Atlanta Hawk Al Horford, an NBA All-Star, is a project, but he’s undeniably talented.

Next year also means Blake McLimans and Jordan Morgan, both of whom redshirted this season, will be making their debuts, automatically giving the Wolverines some newfound size in the post, if Morgan can stay healthy.

While Harris declaring for the draft may seem like a death blow to Michigan’s hopes for next year, it does give Beilein a chance to move on with some of his own recruits — recruits he hand-picked for his system, which has been proven to work.

Don’t run for the hills just yet, Michigan basketball fans. There’s plenty of room for optimism next year.