The Michigan basketball team has been dealt a difficult hand: More than half of the team”s returning contributors are dealing with injuries and the entire squad is working to adjust to its new offensive and defensive systems.
On top of that, the addition of new coach Tommy Amaker has led many people outside of the program to expect of a dramatic turnaround from last year”s 10-19 finish.
Amaker was brought to Ann Arbor to turn this team into a winner, but at this point he is still trying to teach his team to how to win.
“I do feel we”re close,” Amaker said. “For us to battle a team like that, we were down and we fought back and I think we got it to within one basket (against Boston College Saturday).”
At times the Wolverines” motion offense has looked impressive, with penetration leading to open outside jumpers and easy buckets in the paint.
But at other times, including several key moments in the recent three-game losing streak, the team has failed to execute the way that Amaker would like.
“It takes time to learn a motion offense,” said Boston College coach Al Skinner, who was named Coach of the Year by the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated last season. “I”ve seen what that offense can do when (Amaker) was at Seton Hall. It takes time to bring a team together and blend it, regardless of how much talent you have.”
Nagging injuries have prevented the 2-3 Wolverines from playing with a full deck this season.
Senior tri-captain Leon Jones has been forced into street clothes since the first game because of a broken thumb, but he has been targeting this week for his return to practice.
Amaker has not played 7-foot-2 center Josh Moore in either of the last two games, citing Moore”s lack of mobility caused by his chronic back troubles.
The injury bug is also affecting players on the floor. LaVell Blanchard and Bernard Robinson each missed significant time during the preseason because of an ankle injury and mononucleosis, respectively.
The two have not lived up to their expectations this season, scoring just a combined 24.5 points a game compared to the 32.2 they posted last year. Lingering effects from Robinson”s illness and Blanchard”s ankle may be partially responsible for that decline.
After a 2-3 start against the 167th most difficult schedule (according to yesterday”s Rating”s Percentage Index), some fans are claiming that the sky is falling on this Michigan team.
But tonight at 7 p.m., the Wolverines will have a chance to brighten some of those optimistic forecasts against a quasi-Division I opponent Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne.
The Mastodons (0-6) are in the process of moving up to Division I, which takes four years to complete.
The RPI, which the NCAA uses extensively in its tournament selection process, doesn”t consider a team to be Division I until the third year of the process.
Since the Mastodons are in their first year of Division I, this game can only serve as a confidence booster for a Michigan team that has lost its last three games and faces No. 1 Duke this Saturday.
Last year in Division II, Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne was 7-23 overall and 4-15 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Earlier this season Michigan State easily handled the Mastodons, 81-68.