Take 5 With David Merritt: Old Spice Classic

Dylan Burkhardt

merritt-layupDavid Merritt (@DavidMerritt15) has managed to keep himself busy since graduation. This summer he started his own apparel company, IMU (The Inside Out), and he has also been calling Michigan basketball games on the radio. Luckily he agreed to add just one more task to his plate, a regular Q&A feature here at UMHoops.

Merritt has obviously been there and done that, playing for Beilein for two years and captaining last year’s NCAA tournament team. His understanding of not only Michigan’s personnel but their schemes should provide a unique insider perspective going forward.

Finishing 1-2 in the Old Spice Classic was obviously a disappointment. How do you think this team will react and what does it take to regroup after a very frustrating loss or two?

Those losses will hurt, especially the Alabama game. I mean those are the type of losses that really sting because we controlled most of the game, forced 19 turnovers, but still came up short. However, I think this team will respond. It’s early in the season and I think Michigan realizes that they have a lot to work on and nothing this year will be handed to them. To regroup, it takes an enormous amount of focus and amnesia. You must learn from the tournament by watching film and then working on those teaching points in practice. However, you must forget about what happened in Orlando. Forget that we shot the ball pretty poorly. Forget that we lost two games. Boston College should be the only thing on their minds.

Michigan’s defense has obviously struggled in the early going. What will it take to improve? Obviously the personnel isn’t going to change much but what do they have to start doing a better job of?

Defense is not a “let’s come out here and play hard defense today” kind of thing. Strong defensive skills must come from practice. Learning how to play great defense in major Div. 1 College Basketball is extremely tough. Most teams run so many actions at the same time that concepts are extremely tough to learn. Not to mention this team has a lot of new parts, several players playing different positions than last year, and a freshman starting point guard.

So far, dribble penetration is hurting us but I think we did a much better job of coming over to help vs. Alabama. Michigan showed its best defensive effort vs. Alabama so that was encouraging. And “effort” is a key word there because that was the main difference. Michigan was a lot more active, which helped force the 19 turnovers. However, there’s something called “help the helper.” It’s the complete rotation, where not only does one player come over to help, but another player then helps whoever went to help. That’s a major weakness right now and a big reason why we aren’t rebounding the ball like we should. If we were completing our full rotations, we would be in a better position to make a hit and box somebody out. Having a mindset to box out instead of watching the ball come off the rim needs to be engrained in Michigan’s head pretty quickly.(ie. last Alabama possession – offensive rebound and put back)

Darius Morris is manning your old position in the backcourt, can you give any kind of perspective about how much has to be swimming through his head just 5 games into his first year of college basketball?

I think Darius is doing a good job. He had a tough game against Alabama but that’s expected. I really liked that he was a lot more vocal and took control of the offense when plays broke down. Darius has also shown an ability to get to the basket, which will really help this team. And let’s just be frank, running Coach Beilein’s offense is no easy task. Every action the defense makes has a reaction and it’s going to take a while for him to learn all the reactions. So I’m sure a lot is going through his mind but I think he has handled the position well so far, especially going against full court pressure for the last three games.

gibson-dunkZack Gibson has been a pleasant surprise averaging 7 points and 3 rebounds in only 11 minutes per game. What is different from Zack this year and what kind of a niche can he carve out going forward?

Confidence and his mentality. Look, Zack Gibson has game and has always had it. I remember our scout team days during Zack’s transfer year and everyone knew he had the chance to be really good. It’s really up to Zack to determine how much he wants to contribute to this team because there’s so much there. I truly think he’s the X Factor this year and will be leaned upon to “go big” playing bigger teams. The Zack Gibson, DeShawn Sims line up needs more minutes out on the floor. Zack Novak has soooo much heart, but 6’4 is 6’4.

Manny Harris was simply phenomenal in Orlando, averaging 22.66 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals per game. Instead of harping on everything he does well, what’s one area where you think he could really improve?

Manny Harris is doing it all, flat out. Phenomenal player. I’ll answer the question though. Manny Harris is shooting 46% from the floor. How do you shoot 46% from the floor when you are only shooting 3-23 from the 3 point line in 5 games. That means, Manny Harris is shooting 59% from two-point range. 59%! So it comes down to shot selection. At times during the game, Manny will start to press and take shots he really shouldn’t take. He has got to improve in this area because every offensive possession is key. On another note, I think he can start dumping the ball more to Sims on fast breaks and dribble penetration. DeShawn needs more touches inside and needs to find a rhythm, and Manny can easily help him do that by just dumping it to him when he gets into the lane. 6 assists/game for Manny Harris though. How many records will he break if he stays around here another year?

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  • Wow. Really great interview. I’ll have to make it a point to catch a U-M game on the radio.

  • Brad

    Mr. Merritt is spot on, very good interview… I really like that he mentioned the “help the helper” idea. I noticed that in the second half of the marquette game and Alabama game that the second weakside guy is a half step slow giving up layups or putback dunks. It’ll be interesting to see how quick the team locks that up…

  • Giddings

    Great stuff. I’d be interested to hear what Dave thinks about leadership on this year’s team.

  • Jim

    Great observation on Zack Novak as well. At 6’4″, he’s really out of position although he does everything humanly possible to make up for his lack of height. He’s especially vulnerable to weak side rebounds in the 1-3-1 against bigger and more athletic players. Zack Gibson or Big Ben stepping up would be of enormous help with interior rebounding and defense, which David refers to as the “x” factor.

  • pete

    Merritt needs to be on TV or something doing analysis. That was very good.

  • TomAce

    On an unrelated note, here’s some offense I’d like to see at Crisler,


  • Kevin in GR

    I was in Orlando and saw all three games. I was thinking the same thing that Merritt talked about when he said that the Sims/Gibson lineup needs to see more time. Especially in the Marquette game, it seemed like we were getting roughed up too much. We also struggled with the length of Alabama. Another thing I noticed is that it seems like the offense starts with getting the ball on the wing to Novak. Something else in the Marquette game was that we had a size advantage at the guard positions, especially when Acker (5’8) was on the floor. I would have thought that we could have found a way to take advantage of those mismatches better. It seemed like we didn’t adjust to that and kept with the standard “3 point shooting” offense. In his limited minutes, Gibson was impressive on both ends. Like Merritt says about Novak, 6’4 is 6’4. We all can see how much Beilein likes him and he is a captain as well, but I’d rather see a more traditional lineup with Gibson starting and Novak coming off the bench. Another thing I noticed is that it seems like our guys (with the exception of Novak at times) don’t show a lot of emotion when compared to the teams we played.

  • EchoWhiskey

    Really good feature, Dylan. Can’t wait to see this analysis throughout the season. Thanks for the time, David.

  • AG2

    One of the articles I saw on ESPN’s college basketball page was an Insider article about Rumors of Manny Harris’ Other Challenges. I don’t have Insider so if anyone has a chance to see it could they share what they find?

  • AG2 it’s a post about Harris’ hamstring with not much new info. Just that it was a problem and his shooting from 3pt might mean it still lingers. Also has a link here! ha. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Ryan

    Great read. Thanks for this!

  • maxwell’s demon

    Any predictions for tonight? I say Indiana pulls off the upset.

  • Brad


    Seth Davis writes Rakim Sanders may not be able to go against Michigan…that is some good news heading into a pretty big game…

  • AG2

    Predictions for tonight:
    MSU over UNC in a 40+ turnover game.
    Purdue in a huge beat down of Wake.
    Maryland beats IU in a low scoring affair.
    Northwestern frustrates NC State en route to another big win.
    Virginia Tech in an ugly, ugly blowout of Iowa.

  • TomAce

    AG2 sounds good to me!

  • A2MIKE

    Glad to see Merritt agrees with me! I called for that lineup every game last weekend and people berated me with every reason why that shouldn’t happen. Gibson/Sims needs 10-15 minutes per game. Great analysis by DM, looking forward to more of it.

  • Gary

    Didn’t we hear last season that the Gibson/Sims lineup wasn’t an option because of lack of anyone to back them up? What’s changed? Cronin still doesn’t seem to be an option to step in if either gets into foul trouble.

  • Skipper

    Merritt is a gifted analyst and commentator already. His commentary is riddled with examples, statistics, and knowledge. Great job.

  • ToBlav

    Gary – Good question. I think maybe what’s changed is that Gibson looks to be able to contribute more consistantly, at a higher level, and for longer lengths of time. I am merely speaking to the perception, for what it’s worth.

    p.s. David is a great addition to an already great site.

  • dave

    gibson right now other than manny maybe is the only one playing with aggression and intensity however saying that seeing him trying to box somebody out is horrifying i have noticed several times aldready this season that he really has trouble doing this………somebody who was obviously playing the 4 or 5 his entire career should be able to box out properly, but sometimes it looks as if he has never done it before which is maybe why he doesnt play more……..that being said he has brought more than novak thus far for sure and shoudl get his chance at more than 10-15 mins a game cause that certainy is not enough……….he probably has had more points in the paint this year that deshawn so hes gotta be in more

  • Giddings

    I see Big Ten wins from PSU, NW, Purdue, OSU, and Michigan. The Challenge may come down to the MSU/UNC game and the Minnesota/Miami game. Unfortunately ACC is the home team for both.

  • Thanks for all the kind words everyone. Really, really appreciate it.

    Giddings – tough question to answer lol :) this team will grow in a lot of areas throughout the year.

    Gary – I didn’t even really think about that point. That is a really valid point. I just think it’s worth a shot to the Sims/Gibson lineup more minutes in order to improve our interior defense and rebounding.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Purdue looks like us right now from 3

  • They should have a button on here for comment edits because I forgot a word! :) “…it’s worth a shot to give the Sims/Gibson lineup more minutes in order to improve our interior defense and rebounding.”

  • Thanks David. Good analysis, you are right on. One other thing though, we need D. Sims to get more physical and mentally tough. He should stay right in the box – that’s his strength.

  • Other Matt

    David, I was en route to Ann Arbor during the Houston Baptist game and listening on the radio. The first few minutes I had no idea who was doing the analysis but kept thinking “this guy should be a little more assertive, every time he speaks it’s on point and smart.” In short, I thought you were excellent and don’t be afraid to speak up a little more!

  • Wayman – I agree with you.

    Other Matt- appreciate it!

  • bf1118

    Hey David you make some really good points man, seems like your amount of knowledge for basketball could get you into coaching eventually?? I could see a future for you at Michigan. Just wondering if you were venturing down that path? Anyways Go Blue!

  • bf1118 – thank you! I don’t though, maybe somewhere down the road.

  • hambone

    nice posts – hopefully dylan can have you around here every so often!

    also liked your discussion about the “michigan assists” on sunday – – something that goes generally unnoticed… enjoyed listening to ya on the radio