Searching For A Bench

Dylan Burkhardt


In a year where most expected Michigan to be deeper and more talented than a year ago, it’s becoming painfully apparent that the bench is one of Michigan’s biggest weaknesses.

Michigan’s bench is playing just 25.1% of the team’s minutes which is the 314th lowest percentage in the country with only Iowa and Northwestern having a worse total in the Big Ten. For comparison’s sake, Michigan got 35.6% of their minutes from their bench last year, the third highest percentage in the conference.

Beyond playing minutes, last year’s bench also scored more points. Last year’s bench scored 30.8% of Michigan’s points while this year’s team has only scored 19.4% of the team’s total. 

There are also some logical reasons that last year’s bench would have scored more points, primarily the fact that DeShawn Sims came off the bench for 9 games, boosting the bench numbers by a few percentage ticks.

Still, looking down the roster it is clear that last year’s bench was better able to contribute.

  • In the backcourt there were five players (Douglass, Grady, Lee, Merritt, Lucas-Perry) for two positions.
  • On the wing, CJ Lee proved to be a valuable backup for Manny Harris because he didn’t miss a beat defensively.
  • At the four position, Anthony Wright and Jevohn Shepherd gave Michigan a pair of options to try in spot situations.
  • Down low, Michigan had the same situation with Sims and Gibson.

The plan was to replace Merritt, Lee, Grady, and Shepherd with Morris, Vogrich, Akunne, Morgan, McLimans, and Cronin. Since then, Morgan and McLimans appear headed for a redshirt and Cronin’s career is over.

Now Michigan has 3 and a half players for 2 positions in the backcourt with Vogrich shifting his focus toward becoming Manny Harris’ backup. All the prospective big men have essentially been shelved. Vogrich backing up Harris leaves Wright to backup Novak at the four.

In my mind, if bench players do one thing it better be play great defense. Scoring off the bench is a nice luxury but solid defense off the bench is necessary.

The scary part of this for Michigan fans is that Vogrich and Wright, Michigan’s two options for wing backups, have struggled mightily on the defensive end. At this point, I would expect you would struggle to find a scouting report that didn’t point them out as defensive liabilities.

Matt Vogrich played one of his best games (in limited playing time) as a Wolverine versus Ohio State but he also demonstrated just how much of a defensive liability he can be. These are his first (and only) two defensive possessions in the first half versus Ohio State:

The clips are a bit painful and also a small sample size (Diebler got open plenty in the first half) but there is no denying the fact that Vogrich has struggled on the defensive end. However, Vogrich also showed off the other way to earn playing time: hustle your ass off and make things happen.

In the backcourt, Stu Douglass has been the only Michigan guard to score the ball with any consistency lately. In the first two conference games, Morris and Lucas-Perry have combined for 7 points to Douglass’ 25. Morris appears to be developing but at the same time Lucas-Perry appears that he might be regressing and continues to look extremely tentative.

Michigan can’t manufacture players mid-season so the answers to improving depth have to come from within somewhere. Moving Matt Vogrich to the three full time makes a lot of sense and I think we will see more of that going forward. Anthony Wright appears to be the best option at the four, as painful as it may be, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eso Akunne thrown into the mix occasionally.

There has been talk of burning Jordan Morgan’s redshirt but I am not sure how helpful that would be. Morgan is a five man all the way and what Michigan really needs is help on the wings and in the backcourt. Burning Morgan’s redshirt could give Michigan flexibility in moving Sims to the four, however I think it’s becoming clear that Michigan thrives when Sims plays on the block.

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  • Mith

    Stay the course with Jordan Morgan. Like it was quoted a few weeks ago- let’s not trade part of a season with a skinny 18 year old kid for a whole season of a 22 year old big man. We’ll be happier for it down the road.

  • JimC

    Those are very interesting observations Dylan.

    We kinda miss all those guys. Aside from the obvious leadership missing, Shepherd stands out a little in my mind – he wasn’t a great scorer (he clanked about every 3 he tried) but occasionally he would drive the lane, jump 40″ or so and dunk. Nice to have an athlete like that.

  • Shepherd’s athleticism also made him a viable option on the defensive end as well.

  • acs236

    Could you please explain the rationale behind continuing to red shirt both McLimans and Morgan? It seems next year Michigan won’t have a single big with any college experience whatsoever.

  • It appears that McLimans isn’t ready by any stretch right now. And if Morgan isn’t better than Sims (obviously) or Gibson (probably) it will be tough to find him any minutes except in spot situations. So you would be burning a redshirt for a very small amount of playing time.

  • I think Grady was a bigger loss than people thought. He wasn’t great on D but he had the best 3 point shooting percentage last year, had unbelievable ball handling skills, and I feel like he added a dimension to the team chemistry as well. I’ve played pick up ball against Jordan Morgan prior to him coming to U-M and he’s not ready to play Big 10 bball. He has no jump shot, and can’t be more than 6’6″, maybe 6’7″. He can be pretty physical down low but is too young and undersized to play as a frosh not to mention his knee injury.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Grady hardly even played by the end of last year (whether deserved or not). I really don’t think we need more depth at 1 and 2, which is exactly why moving Vogrich to 3 makes sense. I think Gibson is a good enough back up for Sims so as Dylan points out, I don’t see what good Morgan would do us unless we could move Sims to 4, and that seems too disruptive. So that leaves the 4 position and Anthony Wright.I know Beilein sees what we don’t in practice, but I have a hard time believing that McLimans or Eso (or just nobody) could be worse.

  • AG2

    The biggest issue for me is can you even afford to recruit players who ultimately redshirt in basketball? Do they really improve enough that they don’t end up in situations like Anthony Wright where you’re wondering whether he would take up an extra scholarship in his 5th year?

  • Eddie

    Let’s keep in mind that Morgan is coming off surgery, and whether he is ready for Big 10 ball may be predicated on the fact that he can’t get up and down the floor as well as he needs to. It may not be a talent issue that is keeping him in a redshirt, but rather a health/stamina issue

  • bird

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that McLimans and Morgan aren’t getting any experience because they’re redshirting. Learning the system is important, and they’re doing that in practice. Along with Smotrycz as a true frosh contributor, I’m excited to see the infusion of height next year. Ah, next year…

    Sorry for a bit of a non-sequitur, but I have a question about the NBA draft. I don’t pay attention to the pro game at all, and its draft has been moot for Michigan fans for a while, so I’m just trying to educate myself. I’m sure it’s a case-by-case determination to some extent, but how high in the draft does a player – let’s say, I don’t know, Manny Harris – have to be projected to go for it to behoove him to leave school early? If I see a mock draft and Manny’s nowhere to be seen in the first round, what does that mean?

    Win or lose, I’m still having fun watching this team. Our little guys are having a tough go of it, but it isn’t hard to recall the days of five players running around on offense like chickens with their heads cut off until the clock’s down to three and the Horton drives for an off-balance desperation twisting jump lay-up shot thing. **shudder**

  • Why is there no sound in the videos? Or is that just me?

  • JimC

    bird you crack me up…
    My theory is As goes Deshawn Sims, so goes Manny. Sims goes regardless, and I can’t see Manny sticking around to play with a bunch of redshirts and white boys from Indiana.

    @AG2, I worry about the same thing, and I’m puzzled how someone like Mclimans wouldn’t play. But maybe there’s just too much competition for playing time, even though we don’t have so much talent.
    Not the best example because he didn’t redshirt, but Sims wasn’t much of a contributor early in his career here. Statistically, he’s improved significantly every year.

  • Jimmy

    JimC: I had the same theory pre-season and still think it’s likely that Manny leaves with Peedi.

    But if we miss the tournament and scouts don’t believe Manny can go left (which I didn’t notice until analysts won’t shut up about it all of the sudden) then he could have a lot to gain by coming back for his senior season. I know Peedi is his closest friend on the team but I don’t think that is going to be the only variable he considers when decides whether to test his luck in the draft.

    Realistically, I still think he goes. But I think he trusts Beilein enough to listen to what his opinions and make him even better for one last audition during his senior season, especially if we can surround him with a better, more experienced supporting cast.

    So in conclusion, who knows..I personally wouldn’t be surprised either way.

  • AG2

    JimC, I know what you mean about Sims. His first season he looked like he could barely dribble.

    Bird, if I recall correctly, it is traditionally considered prudent to leave early if you’re projected to be a lottery pick. That way, you’re almost assured to be chosen in the first round where the contracts are guaranteed. Anything lower and you’re pretty much getting a cup of coffee and a one-way trip to the D-League or Europe.

  • Mat

    Instead of playing Wright as the backup at 4, why can’t Sims move to 4 while Gibson mans the 5. It seems like if you’re that desperate for bench help, you play your best backup (Gibson) a little more.

    I realize it may take Sims out of his game a little bit, but it seems like an acceptable alternative to having obvious defensive liabilities on the floor.

    LLP needs to step up his game. I think he can.

  • Why not give Eso a chance instead of Ant Wright. He may be shorter, but ANT does not rebound any way. I know how players practice is big, but sometimes you have to let them show their value on the court. Give him a test.

  • From what I hear on Eso… He’s still picking up the system. Remember he’s a true freshman, this is Wright’s third year under Beilein.

  • JB

    how much of an impact do you guys think the national championship will have on the crowd at psu on thursday? i’m hoping it has a noticeable effect but i kinda doubt it.

  • Scott

    Michigan will lose no question about it. PSU will play the game of their life and we will shoot about 30%. It’s on the road and we don’t win on the road.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Scott – Are you a Sparty fan?

  • Chris

    Dylan: Don’t you think it’s time that you update the hotboards? Considering a few of them have commited elsewhere and you don’t have Horford on there. Just a thought.

  • ToBlav

    Bird – wonderful read, good memory and humorous.
    Scott – Pessimism is bad for the blood pressure

  • Scott

    Nope, just realistic and unimpressed with this coach in year 3. Being 32-37 does not impress me and shooting 3’s in a gimmick offense is not fun to watch. We need changes.

  • dave

    beilein is a solid coach but same problems as last year……nobody besides manny can drive to the basket and create for himself when the 3s arent falling……..the only problem is the defense is much worse……..they need to diversify and drive to the basketball…..they need guys that can do more than just shoot, simple as that

  • MaizeNBlue2

    Ok, Scott is obviously one of two things: either he’s a troll, or he’s a bandwagon fan.

    Things like “this coach” & “gimmick offense” are sure signs of this.

    Now, on to the important matters: I agree on Vogrich. If some of you recall, I scouted a game of his last year, and I said I was concerned about his build and his defense. One of those two seems to be right on the money, and if you notice the second possession of the first clip, he gets bumped by the screen along the baseline and knocked so far off his line that he can’t get to Diebler. Seems like these were valid concerns.

    I loved his effort though. Seems like he may be learning from Novak and doing whatever he can to help the team which will be a blessing the rest of this year and in the future, if he keeps it up.

    I agree with what was said above as well, I know we like Peedi on the block, but with the way Anthony Wright is playing, I think we need to try Peedi at the 4 and bringing Gibson in at the 5.

    Coach Beilein (That’s his name, Scott) knows what he’s doing. I personally am holding out hope that Manny comes back, because we should definitely be able to make some noise next year, although the 4 and 5 are definitely a bit of a concern. On the bright side, we should have quite a few bodies to throw down low. The funny thing is we said the same thing last year after the season was over.

    All isn’t lost for this season yet, but we’re going to have to step it up and start playing like we can. With all this being said; even if we miss the postseason this year, I’ll still be watching every game. If I can sit through the Ellerbe and Amaker years, then this is nothing. Go Blue, Always!

  • Hey guys, hot boards in the process of being updated. Thanks for your patience :-)

  • El Capitan

    I would be SHOCKED if Manny comes back next year. If he finishes the season the way he started, then he should be a first round pick. He is super-athletic, has good height, and rebounds the ball extremely well. The things he gets knocked for such as an inability to go left and a funny jump shot can be taught. I believe the word pro scouts use for players like that is POTENTIAL. And God knows the NBA drafts on potential more than anything else.

    Which leaves us next year with two underclassmen who will have to be our designated slashers. Darius will have to be the main man when it comes to driving and dishing, but if we get Zeigler (which I firmly believe is going to happen) then he will provide another slasher, albeit a freshman. But regardless, I think the two of them together can pick up a majority of the slack.

    Where Manny will be missed most is his ability to become the offense. Notice that every time the shock clock gets to about 15 seconds, if we have not gotten a good shot through our offensive set, Manny goes and gets the ball, and everybody else clears out. While this is not a favorable offensive set (it yields a bad shot or turnover about half the time), it is still a luxury to have when the offense breaks down. Next season, it’s going to be up to Darius, LLP or Zeigler to make that happen. And none of them are as well-rounded as Manny Harris.

    To make a long story short: we aren’t going to fully appreciate Manny until he’s gone.

  • Jeff

    Here’s my two cents on Manny. I think it’s 50/50 on him leaving after this year. He still has some major weaknesses–jump shot, going left, terrible handle. Potential gets you drafted when you are a high-end talent, and as far as the NBA goes, Manny is a borderline talent. I do think he’s a smart kid with a good head on his shoulders, so he’ll get all the facts and make the best decision for him.

    I’ve always enjoyed following the NBA draft and here’s what I’ve learned. If you’re a sophomore, 99% of the time it’s stupid to come out early if you’re not almost certain to go in the first round. Lot’s of kids do it anyways, but most of them are kids who struggle with the responsibility of college life, others just buy into bad advice.

    For juniors the decision is more complex. Generally, it’s not considered wise to come out if you’re not likely to go in the first round, but some kids realize by the end of their junior year that they’re not likely to improve their stock significantly by coming back one more year. However, I do think Harris could benefit from one more year because he’s young for a junior and does have weaknesses. I’d really be surprised if he’s leaning heavily in one direction or the other at this point, but you never know what a kid might be thinking. (Sorry for the length of this post)