I’ve been routinely pointing out Manny Harris’ struggles over the last several weeks. Michigan put the ball in his hands down the stretch in Madison and he let them down. He’s shooting just 23 of 68 (33.8%) over his last five games. He was suspended for an incident in practice. In short, it hasn’t been the best stretch for Manny Fresh and many, myself included, have been wondering “What’s wrong with Manny Harris?”
There are plenty of potential explanations for Harris’ struggles. First, he has been nursing a hamstring injury all season. It’s clear that he lacks that extra explosive burst that separates truly elite players from the rest of the pack. It’s also apparent that Manny is starting to let some of the frustration from the disappointing season catch up to him. Over the last month, it’s been easy to spot the angst on Harris’ face as things just don’t go his way.
Despite the mental and physical ailments affecting Harris, there is also something else to consider. Manny Harris has never been particularly efficient in Big Ten play. Most players see a drop in production from non-conference play (cupcake city) to conference play. In the case of Manny Harris, this drop is amplified by the drastic differences in style of play.
The more physical nature of the Big Ten means fewer free throws and much tougher shots for a player like Manny. Despite the success that Michigan achieved last year, Harris still took his lumps in conference play. He made 3 or fewer field goals in eight different Big Ten games and Michigan was just 2-6 in those contests. Here are Harris’ numbers in conference play over the last three seasons:
|Manny Harris Big Ten Stats|
Several stats are actually up this year. His offensive rating has improved, he’s shooting a higher percentage from the field, turning the ball over less, and scoring more. The obvious negatives are that he isn’t pulling down quite as many rebounds and he isn’t getting to the free throw line.
These numbers obviously take into account the whole Big Ten slate, not just the last five games when Harris’ struggles have seemed to hit rock bottom. Manny has had some great statistical performances in conference play, including his gem of a game versus Ohio State (9-16 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists).
So perhaps nothing is wrong with Manny Harris at all. This is the same Manny that we saw last year during Big Ten play. He will have his great games but he also has his off-days when nothing seems to work. Every player has his bad games, that’s undeniable. The problem is that even if this is the same Manny Harris, Michigan was hoping for an improved Manny.
Expectations were high this year because improvement was expected. Harris and Sims would become more consistent. Michigan’s role players would slightly refine their games to become less one dimensional. Looking at Manny specifically, I firmly believe that if he could shoot ~35% from three point range he’d be a lock first round draft pick.
The team was expected to improve across the board and it just didn’t happen. In fact, this year’s team has been quite similar to last year’s through conference play. On February 10th, 2009, Michigan was 5-7 in conference and had lost 7 of their last 9 games. Today, Michigan is 4-7 in conference and has lost 5 of their last 6. The non-conference slate is what let this season slip away because Michigan put themselves in a situation that required a miracle conference run that this team is obviously not equipped to make.
Conference play is a grind. Michigan entered as a wounded soldier and they have been put down. Manny Harris’ struggles are one piece of the puzzle but in hindsight they shouldn’t be too surprising, we’ve seen this script before.