Big Ten Preview: Wolverines and Spartans in trouble?

Posted: December 29, 2009 by sabetodo in College

By Andrew Bolton

Now that the non-conference games for both teams have been played (State’s game against Texas-Arlington notwithstanding), it’s time to take a look at what we have learned about both teams so far.

Let’s  start with the Wolverines.

In short, it was a great time to be a Wolverine basketball fan. At least, until the season started. Maybe seeing the little #15 next to the team name rattled the players, but this team never got off the ground. An overtime win against a rebuilding Creighton team did not exactly inspire confidence going forward, and sure enough, all the good vibes from last season would soon disappear after close losses to Alabama (a decent team) and Boston College (not a decent team without Tyrese Rice; they lost to Harvard, although Harvard may be a decent team, so who knows; that Jeremy Lin is pretty good). Everything culminated in a blowout loss at Utah. To put this in perspective, to that point in the season, the Utes had lost at home to Idaho and Seattle, and the Michigan win propelled them to a loss to Pepperdine later in the season. Utah is not a good team, and the Wolverines got ran out of the gym.

Some signs of life appeared in the later stages of the non-conference games, however. After a better-than-it-looks-on-the-schedule win over a sneakily half-decent Detroit team, the Wolverines acquitted themselves well in an 11-point loss at Kansas in which had they made some shots, they might have stolen that game. A blowout win against Coppin State put an end to the non-conference slate of games, and (hopefully) gave the Wolverines a little boost going into the Big Ten conference season.

So what’s the problem with the Wolverines? Anyone can see what it is: shooting. John Beilein has managed to create a team full of players who can’t shoot. Like, at all. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that Beilein’s offense relies on the three-ball. Check out these shooting numbers from three-point land:

Against Northern Michigan: 9/25

Houston Baptist: 10/28

Creighton: 10/27

Marquette: 3/20

Alabama: 6/25

Boston College: 9/34

Arkansas Pine-Bluff: 6/24

Utah: 7/22

Detroit: 8/24

Kansas: 5/28

Coppin State: 11/33

For those scoring at home, that’s an average of 26 threes taken per game. That’s a lot, but when you only make them at a 29% clip, it becomes intolerable for the fans to take.

Another problem is the lack of an inside presence, but since the Wolverines were competitive last year without one, this isn’t an excuse for them. Wait, Deshawn Sims is on the roster? Is he playing? He is? Is he the big guy that’s always behind the three-point line? Yes? Why isn’t he on the block, terrorizing bigger opponents with his quickness and athleticism? You don’t know? Well, if you find out, let me know, will you? Thanks.

Unfortunately, all the momentum in the world won’t save the Wolverines in the Big Ten this season. They start off the season at Indiana, who’s still really bad, but do you expect the Wolverines to go to Assembly Hall and play well? Then it’s back home to get destroyed by Willie Buford, Jon Diebler and Co. who, even without Evan Turner, have had a great start to the season. Let’s not even talk about what happens when they play Wisconsin or Purdue. Looking at the Big Ten standings right now, Michigan, by virtue of their 6-5 record, is third from the bottom, ahead of only Indiana and Iowa. If that’s not an omen, I don’t know what is. Expect wins against the bottom feeders, an upset of one of the big boys (most likely Ohio State, since I just talked them up), and frustrating losses to Penn State and Illinois and Minnesota to knock them out of NCAA tournament consideration. That’s okay, because everything about this team screams NIT, anyway.

Let’s move on to the Spartans.

Overrated? Oh yeah. Sure, the 9-3 record looks good, but the only quality win of that 9 is against Gonzaga, a tough team, for sure, but not as talented as they have been in years past. In games against tougher competition, the Spartans have faltered, losing at UNC and at Texas, along with a neutral-site loss to Florida(!). Now, I realize that going to places like Chapel Hill and winning is not easy, but a Final-Four contender should’ve been able to do it, especially with UNC in a rebuilding year (well, as much as it could be considered “rebuilding”; it’s more like “reloading”). The long and the short of it is that the Spartans looked like world-beaters against the Oaklands and Valporaisos of the world, but up against the big boys, they didn’t come off as well in the comparison.

The truth is that State is not as good as they look on paper. Raymar Morgan is a career underachiever. Durrell Summers appears to have taken a step backward while dragging Kalin Lucas with him. Delvon Roe is inconsistent. Korie Lucious and Chris Allen are too. They are thin in both talent and depth up front, with 6-6 Draymond Green being their best interior player on both ends of the court (Day-Day’s playing really well; loved watching him in high school and am very glad he’s succeeding at State).

We’ve discussed the problems with State ad nauseum on this site: post defense, youth and inexperience in the frontcourt, etc. Another issue that hasn’t been brought up is the 67% shooting from the free-throw line as a team. That needs to improve, to say the least. They need to be able to close out games from the free-throw line late in the season, and if you can’t make ’em now, how will you be able to with the season on the line?

Fortunately for the Spartans, they have the talent to turn this around. The frontcourt’s going to be a weakness all season, but the guards are talented enough to overcome this. They won’t win the conference, but they will finish above .500 and will get a 4-or 5-seed in the NCAA tournament and all the requisite “this is a dangerous team!” buzz that State will always get come tournament time. The fact of the matter is that this team does have the talent to win it all, despite their flaws. They just need to get some sort of regular production from their big men. Any of them. Someone. Please. I mean in addition to Draymond.

My pick to win the Big Ten? Wisconsin. Too big and talented for the rest of the conference. Jon Leuer is going to tear up these small teams.

Player of the Year: Well, it would’ve been Evan Turner, but now I’d have to say Leuer is the pick. I have to hedge, though: if Penn State makes the Big Dance, then Talor Battle will win this award.

Defensive Player of the Year: Toss-up between Chris Kramer (Purdue) and Trevon Hughes (Wisconsin). Can they split this award?

Freshman of the Year: Would have been Indiana’s Maurice Creek before his season-ending injury. I’ll go with Drew Crawford, Northwestern.

Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

First-Team All Big Ten: Talor Battle, Penn State; Manny Harris, Michigan; Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin; Robbie Hummel, Purdue; Jon Leuer, Wisconsin.

  1. Jared Field says:

    Wow…who would have predicted that Kalin Lucas wouldn’t be first team all conference two months ago?

  2. mace says:

    I’ll give you the Fla loss as bad (23 to’s) but losing on the road to NC and Texas is no shame. No team in the B10 has anywhere near the size, athleticism and depth of those two teams. Purdue should take the B10 because of their experience, smarts and they simply play harder than anyone else but they lack quality depth (not sure when the super quick soph pg is coming back). MSU must cut down on the to’s and get a little more production from frosh big’s and they will be right there. On paper they have a relatively soft schedule to start the B10 and have to be at least 5-1 out of the gate. Who would’ve thought the 1st game @ NW would be such a big game? OSU could be a sleeper if Turner comes back healthy — they have a lot of perimeter talent but i can’t see them winning it all w/o a true solid pt guard. Wisky is Wisky — they’ll always be in the mix with Bo Ryan. Don’t be suprised if Hughes has a better year than Lucas and Battle.

    • Jared Field says:

      I don’t like Ohio State’s chances against good competition. Matta’s playing three guys almost 40 minutes per game. That will catch up to a team sooner or later.

    • sabetodo says:

      It’s not a shame to lose at UNC or Texas. I just felt that they should’ve taken one of those, especially the UNC game. The Heels are young, inexperienced, and less talented on the perimeter than the Spartans are. Texas relies too much on Damion James. If the Spartans want to be considered a Final Four team, they have to show me something early, something that makes me think, “Yeah, this may be our year.” Nothing about what I’ve seen from them makes me think that.

      Lewis Jackson for Purdue (the backup pg that impressed me a lot last year) could be out for the entire season. They’re a thin team, both in depth and in physique. Grant and Moore are a little overrated in my opinion. I can’t pick them to win the Big Ten. Wisconsin is such a bad matchup for them.

      Trevon Hughes has a swagger about him when he plays. With Evan Turner down, Hughes takes the title of the most complete player in the conference.

  3. Dantana says:

    State, with all of its flaws, is still a dangerous team. If/when Summers ever breaks out of his slump and Lucious and Roe can become a little more consistent, they have a legit shot at the BIG 10 title and 2-3 seed.

    One thing is for certain, I would not want to face a Izzo led team in March.

    • Jared Field says:

      Summers will be fine. I think Roe is the key. He is supposed to be a stud by now. If he gets going, State can be a legit top 10 team.

      • sabetodo says:

        Someone needs to show Summers a tape of him dunking on Stanley Robinson last tourney. “This is what you’re capable of! What on Earth is wrong with you?!”

        I’ll settle for noticing when Roe is on the court at this point. Yes, I’m a little disappointed in him.

  4. Gavin Raath says:

    I feel like this is a re-run with State. They always disappoint early and then turn it on in the tourney. I can’t judge until the season is over.

    As for Michigan, they just don’t have any horses besides Manny and DeShawn, and DeShawn plays like a girl half the time.

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