It’s been nearly 250 long days since the Michigan basketball team lost to Duke in the waning moments of the NCAA Round of 32.
The finality of those last few seconds — after Darius Morris narrowly missed the game-tying floater in the lane — cannot be understated. It weighed heavily on the Wolverines, who entered the tournament with tremendous momentum, ready to shock the world. And for Morris, it was the final shot of his career in a Michigan uniform, surely leaving a bitter taste in his mouth that remains as he sits locked out of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, unable to redeem himself.
But for the Wolverines, who return everyone except Morris and little-used guard Jordan Dumars, the offseason was centered around training and conditioning. The sour conclusion to last season provided motivation. Michigan coach John Beilein mentioned at media day last month that the team seemed especially “hungry” to get back on the court, knowing how tantalizingly close they had come to a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
When the Wolverines take the floor at Crisler Arena on Friday night against Ferris State, they’ll look different. Fans will see a bulked-up Evan Smotrycz, who tacked on over 30 pounds of muscle in the hopes he’ll be able to bang with bigger bodies underneath. They’ll see a Tim Hardaway Jr. who spent the offseason working nearly exclusively on ball-handling and rebounding to round out a skill set with his already unquestioned shooting abilities. They’ll also see Jon Horford starting at center, instead of last year’s everyday starter Jordan Morgan.
And perhaps the most important change of all will be at point guard. Freshman point guard Trey Burke will be handed the reigns in his first collegiate contest, supplanting senior guard Stu Douglass. Beilein named Burke the starter yesterday.
“Two things — he’s really a point guard who has really done a great job his whole life of running a team,” Beilein said. “But I also think, Stu took four shots and had zero points (while playing point guard in Friday’s exhibition against Wayne State). This is the same young man that approached 20 points against UConn, Ohio State. I think Stu actually doesn’t mind coming off the bench and hunting shots more than running a team.”
It has been clear since Morris opted for the NBA Draft that Burke would be the natural point guard on Michigan’s roster this season. But in the Wayne State exhibition, Beilein showed his hesitance to start a freshman floor general and instead ran with senior co-captain Douglass, who’s known more for his perimeter shooting than his playmaking abilities.
But on Thursday, Beilein came to grips with reality and made the move. For the season opener, Douglass will be relegated to sixth man — a place he thrived last season as a role player and shooter off the bench.
“I sort of told him at the beginning of practice, ‘Stu, I loved the way you played (on Friday), but we just scored 49 points,’” Beilein said. “We need his scoring. … He’s probably going to play just as many minutes, but he’s not going to be running the team as much as Trey will be at this point.”
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THEM: On Friday, Michigan will get its first look at a tournament team.
No, not a squad from the March Madness we all know and love. Ferris State finished 24-7 last season and went all the way to the Division-II Sweet Sixteen before being halted by eventual champion, Bellarmine.
It’s unlikely that the Bulldogs will be as competitive this year. After losing Division-II All-American forward Justin Keenan and standout guard Darien Gay this past summer, they will need to replace their two leading scorers from last season.
“They had a very good year,” Beilein said. “They’ve lost some very good players, but they had some guys sitting out (last year). They played Michigan State pretty good for most of their game.”
In an exhibition against the Spartans on Oct. 31, Ferris State was outmatched in an 85-58 loss. But Bill Sall’s crew hung with Michigan State for much of the game, and Detroit-native Daniel Sutherlin turned in an impressive 14-point performance.
Junior college transfer Jerrell Sanders added 14 points of his own. And both may pose tough matchups for a Michigan frontcourt that struggled on both sides of the ball against lowly Wayne State on Friday.
Senior point guard Dontae Molden will handle the ball from the top of the key for the Bulldogs, and he comes with far more starting experience than his Wolverine counterpart, Burke.
Michigan is far and away the favorite against a Division-II team, but the Bulldogs have weapons and should turn out a competitive effort.
SILENCE FINALLY BROKEN: Per NCAA rules, Beilein is now officially allowed to comment on the pair of 2012 recruits who signed their Letters of Intent to play for Michigan on Wednesday — top-ranked power forward Mitch McGary and his AAU teammate Glenn “Tre” Robinson III.
Senior co-captain Zack Novak played a significant role in recruiting both of the high school stars. McGary used to attend high school with Novak in Chesterton, Ind., and Robinson played in the same conference.
“Then of course Mitch grew up watching, you know — he was smaller than Zack at one time,” Beilein said. “They grew up to be pretty good friends, where Zack really mentored him. I’d say (Zack’s) role here and how he loves the University of Michigan spoke well for our chances with both young men.”
The 6-foot-10 McGary is easily the most prized recruit of Beilein’s career and Michigan’s best recruit since the late 1990s. And Robinson is also very highly regarding in recruiting circles as a wing who can shoot from the perimeter and get to the hoop with relative ease.
We’re really enthused,” Beilein said. “Whenever the media gets to really talk with (them) … you’ll love the personalities, the enthusiasm. Just fine young men who you want to coach. The big thing is they want to be coached.
“You can’t teach some of those passion things we talk about — those two have it.”