All the hype at the beginning of this year was about how good of a summer sophomore point guard Darius Morris had.
Everyone said he was going to be the glue to bind the Michigan men’s basketball team together — which was fine, because that’s what a point guard should be. He should be the coach on the floor, the guy that makes everyone around him better.
And at the beginning of the season, that’s how it looked.
Then he was left off the Cousy Award Watchlist — an award given to the top point guard in the country — and everyone in Ann Arbor was up in arms.
But Morris didn’t pay attention. He said he didn’t care about the personal accolades as long as the team was winning.
Then the team stopped winning and that little nugget of doubt began to creep up in everyone’s minds — maybe he’s not as good as we thought, maybe he only plays well against lesser competition, maybe his summer wasn’t that great.
Once the Big Ten schedule started, his numbers took a hit — he didn’t appear to be the same player on the floor, he looked more reckless and less effective. In the open court he appeared to be as good as any point guard in the conference, but once the Wolverines slowed down and tried to run an offense, Morris wasn’t Morris anymore.
Yes, Morris was still scoring and distributing the ball, but he didn’t do it with the same flair evenly throughout the game. I began looking back at my game notes that once praised the player, but now the scribbles read: Darius, turnover. Darius, bad pass. Darius, missed shot. Darius, wtf.
And that’s kind of how his first half performances went. Morris has averaged just two points and two assists in each first half since conference play began, but in the second halves he has put up 13 points and dished out four assists. His shooting percentage jumps nearly double from the first to the second half. But it’s not just that.
Forty-three percent of his scoring comes in his final five minutes on the floor. And when you have a guy that plays more than 30 minutes a game, it’s not productive to have his scoring burst come at the end — especially in games that have already been decided before the final five minutes.
It’s important to have your best players produce in the final minutes. It just can’t be the only minutes they’re productive, especially when you’re playing quality competition. Because unless you’re Steve Nash’s coach, normally it’s a bad thing for your point guard to lead the team in points and assists.
Unless that point guard is surrounded by an immense amount of talent, other teams can key in on a single player — whether that means double teaming or forcing him into early foul trouble — and essentially debunk the catalyst of the team.
And those surrounding Morris have the potential to be incredibly talented, but they haven’t produced as consistently as would be necessary for a winning record. Because time and time again (six times straight, to be exact) Morris has been contained by other teams and not enough players have stepped up enough to win.
Big Ten coaches have realized the proper question is not, “How do we stop the Wolverines?” but “How do we stop Morris so the Wolverines stop themselves?”
Essentially, get rid of the general and see how the troops do on their own.
This weekend against Minnesota, they fared decently. Junior guard Stu Douglass stepped up and led the team with six assists and attacked the Gophers’ 2-3 zone with precision and court vision.
Morris, on the other end, looked lost. His one shot of the first half was a drive against three Minnesota players. Then when senior Al Nolen suffered an ankle injury and it was time to attack, time to be a point guard, Morris didn’t react and only passed the ball around the perimeter.
In the time the Wolverines need him the most, Morris has been forced to retreat and Michigan has found itself in a precarious position asking itself, “How do we stop beating ourselves?”
—Jennings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.