Former Michigan point guard Darius Morris’s surprise emergence last season led the Michigan basketball team all the way to the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
When his buzzer-beating floater clanked off the rim in March, it not only ended the Wolverines’ season, it also ended Morris’s short but successful college career, leaving a vacancy at point guard on this year’s squad.
The void has yet to be filled and stands as the biggest question mark facing a Michigan team many have tabbed as a Big Ten title contender. The answer likely lies in experience, or lack thereof.
The Wolverines can either turn to experience — senior guard Stu Douglass who has played significant minutes at the point but is better suited as a shooting guard — or fresh talent in freshmen guards Trey Burke and Carlton Brundidge.
“We can throw a lot of different things at teams and not let a team be able to easily game plan for us,” said Douglass at Michigan media day on Tuesday. “We’ll be able to throw some different stuff at them. We all have different things that we’re better at than the other, and I think that’ll be great for us as a team.”
Burke, the reigning Mr. Basketball in Ohio, is considered by many to be the front-runner to start at point guard. And while Beilein conceded that Burke is more of a natural at the position than Douglass or Brundidge, he remains cautious.
“We’ll have a lot of patience here,” Beilein said. “I think you have to group Trey with Carlton because I know so little (about them).
“Nine hours is all I’ve spent with them, and some of that is really elementary. But I have liked, from both of them, both the early learning curve and their desire to become players, their desire to be coached.”
Douglass and his defensive ability provide an option that the Wolverines used often last year — Douglass guarding the point guard on defense and playing shooting guard on offense. This strategy simplifies the defensive responsibilities, allowing the freshmen to focus on offense.
Wherever the veteran Douglass is asked to play, though, he’ll be ready.
“I’m comfortable with going back and forth, and I’m comfortable now with not knowing what I’m going to play and just going into a game being ready for wherever coach puts me,” Douglass said.
AN ADVERSE OFFSEASON: While the future of Michigan basketball is being stabilized, with the soon-to-be-opened Player Development Center, construction on Crisler Arena made for a hectic off-season.
The players were forced to work out at the wrestling facility, practice at the Intramural Building and use the locker rooms at Ray Fisher Stadium, the Wolverines’ baseball field.
“It was tough,” Douglass said. “You didn’t have the open gym available like we were used to. We had freshmen that we wanted to show some of the offense to — really just establish a culture, and it was tough but we did the best we possibly could with what we had.”
Though the players were subjected to less-than-ideal situations, the coaches were quick to credit the senior leadership, senior guard Zack Novak and Douglass, with keeping the team focused.
Some inside the program put a positive spin on an otherwise difficult situation.
“They’ve had to handle adversity, even in the offseason, so I think that’s another thing that can prepare us for when the season comes around,” Michigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan said. “We’ll be in some adverse situations, and guys have had to communicate over the summer, had to pull together to get a goal accomplished. They’ve worked at it and had to pull together to make it happen. I think the team building started earlier, because of that.”
MUSCLE MEN: Crisler Arena wasn’t the only thing under construction in the offseason.
Several players experienced significant weight gains, most notably sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz, who added 36 pounds since last March.
“It was tough, you had to work at it,” Smotrycz said. “But my mom — I got to give a lot of credit to her for cooking all my favorite meals. But I put a lot of work in this summer, and it’s been translating on the court so far.”
Sophomore forward Jon Horford added 25 pounds, making the once-gaunt big man a legitimate post presence. Along with Smotrcyz, Horford gives Michigan added depth in the frontcourt to accompany redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan.
The front-court players weren’t the only ones to bulk up.
Junior guard Matt Vogrich — who was generally too small to match-up against Big Ten guards two years ago — has steadily added weight.
“I weigh around 200 pounds right now, which is like 30 pounds more than when I came in,” Vogrich said. “So defensively, staying in front of people is easier.
“(Strength and conditioning coach John Sanderson) gave us all a program to do and I’ve got a gym at home that I work out at. I just stuck to his program and it worked.”