Take Five With David Merritt: Kansas Week

Dylan Burkhardt
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Last year’s point guard and co-captain, David Merritt, answers a few questions about the season thus far. Make sure to follow him on Twitter (@DavidMerritt15) as well as his company website, IMU The Inside Out. His recent blog post about the fall out from Ekpe Udoh’s transfer is also definitely worth a read.

Since the last interview, Michigan has lost twice in a pair of disappointing performances against Boston College and Utah. The offense has struggled but, to me, the defense has been the biggest problem. Any thoughts on what’s wrong with Michigan’s defense at this point?

That’s really the most fascinating aspect of this season. Our shooting has relatively been so poor that our defensive weaknesses are so much more glaring. Through these nine games, if Michigan just hits ten more threes total, we probably only have two losses and everything is a lot different. However, I agree with you. I think it comes down to focus. It’s really the mentality that needs to improve. In my last Q & A, I talked about the difficulty in learning defensive concepts, especially with young players. As a result, you understand someone not making a rotation from time to time because they are preoccupied with their own man. However, there isn’t much room for error when it comes down to effort and focus. Our defense has mental lapses, simple as that. Guys are missing shots on offense or turning the ball over and letting that effect their focus on the defensive end. However, you see that this team has the ability to play defense with all the turnovers they have been causing. Just can’t play defense on selected possessions though.

peedi-wisco
One of the common mantras is that this team goes as DeShawn Sims goes. At times he looks like the best player on the floor and at other times he is almost invisible. Cause versus correlation arguments aside, the numbers are a bit scary: DeShawn is averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds in wins and 10 points and 5 rebounds in losses. How important is Peedi’s performance to this team and how can he be more consistent?

That’s an interesting mantra but it has some validity. For a team that’s struggling offensively, your big time players have got to be there every night. You know what Manny is going to give you, that’s a given. Turns out, DeShawn has the ability to play at that same caliber. For a team that’s already searching dearly for a consistent 3rd scorer, option 2 needs to be there. So in essence, DeShawn is extremely important to this team because everyone can really feed off his energy when he goes at it full force. If you go back and look at ALL of our big time wins last year, you’re going to find DeShawn Sims’ name written all over them. DeShawn can be more consistent by continuing to improve his focus and dominating from 15 feet in. I loved how he played vs U of D because he didn’t just settle for 3s. He found his rhythm by making moves off the dribble and attacking before he went outside. Michigan needs him inside and they need him to be a monster on the glass. When DeShawn plays like a monster, Michigan usually wins.

NCAA Kansas BasketballLooking ahead to the Kansas game. They are the number one team in the country and dominant on both sides of the ball, probably the best team Michigan will face this year. As a player, what are you thinking about a game like this? This is the first game Michigan in which Michigan has been the underdog all year, could this help them break out of their slump, relax and play a little looser?

I think so. What do you have to lose? If you leave Kansas with an L, you met expectations. So all you have to do is play 40 minutes of basketball and shock the world. There is absolutely no pressure, you can just go out there and give it your all. It doesn’t get any better than this. Playing on the road period is one of the best experiences in college basketball. Throw in a number one team in Kansas and you have got heaven on earth. And the beauty of this game is if you’re able to play well, it can really get your confidence going and give this team some momentum going into big ten season.

Sticking with Kansas… Have you seen them play this year? They are a team with very few flaws but if you were coaching Michigan what tweaks to the game plan would you consider?

I saw their game against La Salle a little bit. They are talented. Okayyy, they are scary. No player on their team is shooting below 40% from the floor, and they are collectively shooting 44% from 3. Those are numbers that do not go in Michigan’s favor. They do a wonderful job on the glass as well. In terms of a game plan, Coach likes to use the 1-3-1 to negate the opposing team’s size. However, it puts you at a disadvantage on the glass and I don’t know if you want to give Kansas a lot of open looks from 3. So, I would think Coach will mix it up and play man to man a good portion of the game, and throw in the 1-3-1 at times. Games like these some times aren’t about X’s and O’s. Question will be, “What team wants it more?”

What were your thoughts on the UofD game? It seemed that Michigan might have finally made strides on the defensive end but they have yet to put together a complete game. Did you see Sunday’s game as a positive or did it raise more questions?

You have to be encouraged by the second half defensively and the spark you got from DeShawn. You want to take that same momentum and try to turn that type of effort into a full game. Only way you do that is by giving tremendous focus and effort on every play. Let’s see how it goes against Kansas.

  • We miss you Dave and CJ!

    Thanks Dave. Great read. Loved hearing what you have to say. The team could really use you and CJ right about now.

    Just out of curiosity, what does everyone think about either Dave or CJ as a graduate assistant if that was something they were interested in? Personally, I think it is a great idea and would love if that happened.

  • Sam

    I agree, I think that would be pretty cool to see one of them as a graduate assistant. I’m just not sure of all the rules. Patrick Beilein I believe is the “graduate assistant” right now, but I’m not sure if he’s still in school even. I see C.J. at every game, but I know he is working on a gubernatorial campaign and Dave is probably busy with his company. They probably make time for the games but might not have a whole lot of spare time to be at practice every day and breaking down game film.

  • JimC

    Great take on the Kansas game!

  • maxwell’s demon

    At their respective bests, I think DeShawn is just as good as Manny if not better. If DeShawn could play like he did vs. UD consistently, he could be a hell of a PF in the NBA. Unfortunately, only Manny shows up every game.

    Echoing David, we for once have nothing to lose Saturday. Won’t be shocked if we give Kansas a game.

  • bf1118

    Just like the UCONN game last season where we were heavy underdogs and we managed to almost steal that game on their home floor. I think the same thing can happen on Saturday. However, for this to realistically happen players other than manny and peedi are going to have to have to step up and make plays. Ive seen this Kansas team play against Memphis and against Lasalle. Kansas gets lazy for stretches at a time defensively and allows for teams to make runs and get back into games. I think we can keep this thing close and who knows maybe give those Jayhawks a hell of a game. Go Blue!

  • Erik

    While I agree with you guys that we have the talent to win, the team has shown me nothing that makes be believe they an magically “flip a switch” and start playing sound defense and nailing 3 pointers. I think this one is ugly.

  • Tom

    We can all agree that this would be a signature win, not only for this year, but for the next few (with recruiting and scheduling other good opponents out of conference). Sad to say, but unless we get a 3rd scorer (someone just hitting lights out from 3s) and Sims, we’re going to lose this one. It’ll still be a good barometer; if we can at least hang in there then we’ll be in good shape.

  • AA

    Dylan:

    It is obvious that Epke Udoh would have made a big difference last year and this year.

    Would you explain why he thought that he would be wasted in Coach Beilein’s system, and do you agree he would have been?

    Thanks!

  • AG2

    Does anybody know who is going to be doing the Michigan Kansas game for ESPN? Because if they have punk Len Elmore again doing his whole “Michigan should play more like an NBA team” thing again I might have to disable my speakers.

  • Giddings

    The ESPN crew for Saturday is Dave O’Brien, Jay Bilas, and Holly Rowe.

  • jmblue

    Udoh’s AAU coach filled his head with a lot of crazy ideas. Who knows – maybe he had some unrelated ax to grind with Beilein. We know JB isn’t one to get down and dirty with shady types.

  • eddie

    Must read article by former big ten wonk: http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=823

  • Jeff

    Udoh said when he transferred it was because he felt he had the ability to play in the NBA and needed to play in a system that suited his skills and would showcase his talents to NBA scouts. The first quarter of this season has strongly suggested he made the right decision. When he left Michigan he was barely a blip on the NBA radar, now he is actually projected as a first rounder in more than one mock draft. It appears it was the right decision for him. Although I would love to have him on the team, I can’t hold the decision against him.

  • ToBlav

    I’d say it is hard to project what would have happened if Udoh has stayed, but it seems likely we’d have done as well or better last year and have a couple more wins this year. To say that wouldn’t have put him on the NBA radar doesn’t seem realistic. He’d be a key part of an up and coming program. I don’t see how anyone can say he’s better off where he is. Possibly he is, possibly he isn’t.

  • RockChalk Mike

    Looking forward to a great game. We think we can play some D on Mr. Sims and affect his game. Michigan has a great program and history, and we have never won against you.