Nowadays it’s all about what’s new, hip and in style. We will do anything to look younger and stay fresh on the scene.
Even in the sports world, youth steals the show. Professional teams are reluctant to trade away young talent. Lots of attention is paid to players still in high school, who experts predict to be the next great so-and-so. And, of course, there’s a certain announcer losing his voice every night raving about “diaper dandies.”
But while youth may be the current trend, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker is hoping his team has an edge based on its experience. The Wolverines’ starting lineup through 11 games looks like this:
Dion Harris. Senior.
Lester Abram. Senior.
Courtney Sims. Senior.
Brent Petway. Senior.
Ron Coleman. Junior.
Heading into this season, Amaker said numerous times his team will go just as far as the seniors take it. It’s a valid statement, considering half of Michigan’s normal rotation consists of seniors.
Switching to point guard because of the graduation of Daniel Horton, Harris leads the team in assists and sports an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than 2:1.
Harris is also second on the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game, with Sims holding onto a slight edge (15.1). Petway and Abram are fourth and fifth, respectively.
The rebounding numbers also lend support to the leadership of the seniors. Petway (8.0 rebounds per game) and Sims (7.1) control the boards for the Wolverines.
And then there’s Michigan’s record (10-1), which suggests Amaker and his crew are in good shape. But a glance at the schedule illuminates a different image. None of the Wolverines’ 10 wins has been very impressive, at least considering the opponent. They have played some very good games, locking down opposing offenses and sharing the ball to find easy buckets. But it’s hard to gauge what that production means when it comes against the likes of Wofford, Delaware State and Central Connecticut State – teams Michigan is supposed to beat.
More telling has been how the team, and seniors in particular, has responded during Michigan’s toughest situations. It’s easy to focus on the Wolverines’ lone loss of the season – a 74-67 defeat at North Carolina State that wasn’t as close as the score indicates – and say the seniors let the team down.
And you’d be right. After jumping out to an early 12-point lead, Michigan allowed a Wolfpack team playing without its best player, and with just five scholarship players total, to go on a 51-18 run to put the game out of reach. Harris shot 4-of-14 from downtown and committed three turnovers. Abram chipped in just three points. Petway and Sims were outrebounded by the Wolfpack’s big men. The Wolverines fought hard down the stretch, but shouldn’t have needed a furious comeback attempt in the first place.
Even scarier for Michigan is its road win at Miami (Ohio). Harris was the only senior who played well, notching 20 points. And the team allowed the RedHawks to trim an 18-point lead down to two. If it wasn’t for freshman Ekpe Udoh stepping up with five straight points to spark a 9-0 run in the second half, the Wolverines probably never would have snapped out of their funk. Instead of a gritty 62-56 win, fans would be talking about how Michigan let another chance slip away.
That has seemingly been the theme for the Michigan basketball program in recent years – something of which this current group of seniors has been a large part. They’ve almost learned how to lose instead of to win.
Last season, the Wolverines failed to make the NCAA Tournament after starting off 16-3. Who really knows if this group of seniors can get it done?
Maybe the infusion of new blood in Udoh and DeShawn Sims – the prize of the recruiting class whose progress has been slowed due to the loss of his brother – will challenge the seniors for minutes and provide the spark to snap them out of their losing routine, as was the case against Miami.
Or maybe this class is destined to always come up a little short, in which case the finger should be pointed at Amaker even more so than the players.
However it’s going to work out, the challenge starts now.
No longer will we have to judge whether or not a blowout of a bad team is something worth getting excited about.
After hosting Northern Illinois Saturday, Michigan will fly cross-country to take on No. 1 UCLA on Dec. 23. A week later the Wolverines host Georgetown – a big name school that started the season ranked No. 8 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Polls. Those two games will be looked upon seriously by the Tournament selection committee come March, potentially sealing the Wolverines’ fate either way.
After that, the Big Ten season begins. And the only way this Michigan team will survive it is if its seniors step up in the biggest moments. They will get plenty of opportunities. But as was the case last year, the question is: Can they finally come through?