If expectations for the Michigan basketball team reached a fever
pitch last season, the sky seems to be the limit for this
year’s team. In the season after having the ban on playing
postseason games lifted, Michigan just missed making the NCAA
Tournament last year. But the Wolverines made the most of the
postseason opportunity by winning the NIT and raising a new banner
in Crisler Arena.

At media day on Friday, players and coaches discussed the start
of practice and recognized that last season’s postseason
success has allowed the bar to be set higher this season. Winning
the NIT helped Michigan get past the disappointment of not making
the NCAA tournament, but the team has its sights set higher this
year.

“I think this is our year,” junior Graham Brown
said. “We’re going to go out there and play our own
game, and just see what happens. Things are going to fall in place
if we just play our own game, so we’re going to do whatever
we can to make the NCAA Tournament.”

One of the most important steps in taking the next step towards
making the NCAA Tournament is improving the team’s
consistency, particularly on the road. After a win against Purdue
at home last season, the Wolverines went on the road to Minneapolis
and lost to a winless Minnesota team. Coach Tommy Amaker feels that
in order to be successful this season, lapses like that cannot take
place..

“If we can be consistent and we can get better on the
road, I think that’s an area you see a lot of growth and
improvement in our ballclub (this season),” Amaker said.
“I think you need leadership, maturity, toughness, and you
probably need to be a little lucky to have a good road record.
I’m hoping that we can show we’ve grown in those areas
to accomplish those goals.”

Early on in the upcoming season, which starts Nov. 15, Michigan
will get a chance to improve upon its road woes with a potential
trip back to New York for the Preseason NIT finals and a trip to
last season’s NCAA runner-up, Georgia Tech, for the ACC/Big
Ten shootout. Michigan would need to win its first two games at
Crisler before advancing to New York, where the Wolverines could
potentially play Arizona and Wake Forest. Amaker feels that the
early chances to play quality nonconference teams on the road will
go a long way to improving his team’s road mentality.

“The only way that we’re going to become better is
that we utilize (the opportunity in the preseason NIT) with the
proper perspective and in the proper way,” Amaker said.
“We think the proper way is utilizing it to make us work
harder in the fall and the preseason.”

To win those big games, Michigan will need to clamp down on
defense, playing into the strengths of the team. With sophomore
forward Courtney Sims working in the offseason to improve his
strength, and Brown an d junior Chris Hunter also making offseason
improvements, the Wolverines will continue to win with defense,
starting with the front court.

“Since Coach Amaker has been here, he has implemented a
system that is predicated on how we play defense,” junior
Daniel Horton said. “The games that we win are the games when
we’re rebounding well and playing great defense. This year, I
think there will be more emphasis on getting the ball down low
because our big guys can play.”

The Wolverines were sanctioned by the NCAA in May of 2003 for
bylaw violations. The sanctions included a postseason ban that was
lifted before last season.

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