Michigan looks to get past last season, starts with SVSU

File Photo/Daily
Buy this photo

Daily Sports Writer
Published November 4, 2010

Just 2.2 seconds remained in the game and the Michigan basketball team had a 68-66 lead over then-No. 12 Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes inbounded the ball, senior guard Evan Turner hoisted a shot from nearly half court, and it fell.

Every Michigan fan’s world stopped for one second. The Buckeyes won.

The exhibition tonight at 7 p.m. against Saginaw Valley State marks the Wolverines' first game since that heartbreak loss. The game is not a do or die elimination round in the Big Ten Tournament. And the Cardinals are not the caliber of Ohio State.

But regardless of the circumstances, the Cardinals are the lucky ones who get to deal with the Wolverines first this season.

The last time Saginaw Valley State came to Ann Arbor was Nov. 6, 2008. The Wolverines annihilated the Cardinals 81-55 and finished the season in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Then-freshman Stu Douglass tallied nine points and recorded six assists in his collegiate debut. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims combined for 35 points and kept the Cardinals from ever coming within eight points in the second half.

Many think the Wolverines, who finished 15-17 overall, 5-11 Big Ten last year, are doomed with the loss of Harris and Sims, but at least for tonight, Michigan is favored to win. Saginaw Valley State graduated top-scorer Avery Stephenson, who started every game his senior year and led the Cardinals to the quarterfinals of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament.

Though the Cardinals lost their star, they return four of their five starters from last year, all of whom stand at less than 6-foot-5. Not to say that Michigan's strength is its size, but if there is any game this season in which the Wolverines have the big-man advantage, it’s this one.

Redshirt freshman Blake McLimans, at 6-foot-10 in may be the go-to guy under the basket tonight. If the young center starts, his post game will be hard to stop for an otherwise stout Cardinal defense.

Michigan coach John Beilein hasn’t announced the starting lineup yet, but it is likely that sophomore Darius Morris and junior Stu Douglass will trade off at the point guard position. Junior Zack Novak should run the two guard and freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. will probably play the three spot.

Beilein said recently that freshmen Evan Smotrycz and Colton Christian are competing to play the four, and that McLimans and redshirt freshman Jordan Morgan are doing the same for the five.

Douglass could potentially play some two guard, which may help him get his long-range shot started again. Douglass shot 40 percent from three-point range in Michigan's preseason games in Europe, primarily at the shooting guard position. Novak, along with Douglass, should see improvement because of the switch.

At the two guard, Novak will no longer have to cover guys who are nearly a foot taller than him. With the height Beilein has on the roster, Novak will be guarding someone his own size against the Cardinals.

“We don’t have guys that are jumping over the rim or anything like that, so we’re not coming in scaring people," Novak said at Big Ten Media Day last Thursday. “But I think the new system makes us unique. We’ve got a great group of guys and the way we play together, we play really smart together.”

Regardless of how they mix it up, the Wolverines' depth chart boasts a lot of speed. Taking advantage of the fast break and turnovers will be is key for a Michigan victory.

“We’ve got speed,” Beilein said last Thursday. “We have to make offense with defense. That’s what we have to do this year, that we didn’t do last year.”

Michigan will finally get the opportunity to end the speculation tonight and also dig deep into the bench. And maybe after this game, the Wolverines will have a more definitive starting five.