2010-11 Position Battle: Power Forward

Dylan Burkhardt

John Beilein appears to be set on playing Zack Novak at the two, ridding himself of “the smallest four man in Division-I basketball” and leaving Colton Christian and Evan Smotrycz battling to be the starting four.

Smotrycz is the most highly touted recruit in John Beilein’s freshman class. He exploded on the AAU circuit during the summer of 2009, earning a spot in various top 100 rankings and invitations to a number of prestigious camps.  Christian’s recruitment wasn’t nearly as glamorous, he was a Tulane decommitment that received very little recruiting interest from high major programs while playing at Hargrave Military Academy.

Christian and Smotrycz not only had drastically different recruitments, they also have contrasting styles of play and bring different elements to the table. Smotrycz is bigger, more skilled, and an offensive player. On the other hand, Christian is the more athletic player, a high energy guy that looks to contribute with his defense and rebounding.

Instead of writing player profiles for each player, we’ll compare their games and try to figure out how they fit into this year’s plans.


Evan Smotrycz


  • Height: Smotrycz is a legitimate 6-foot-9, which makes him the second tallest player on Michigan’s roster. His wingspan is lacking a bit, measuring at 77" last summer (shorter than both Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, who were both measured at the same camp), but he provides a big body at the four position.
  • Skill: At Smotrycz’ size, he brings an incredible amount of offensive skill to the table – a recipe for success in Beilein’s offense. Smotrycz has the ability to put the ball on the floor and is comfortable getting his shot off in a number of ways.
  • Shooting: Smotrycz’ meteoric rise up the recruiting charts was predicated on his lights out shooting on the AAU circuit. It’s clear the shooting ability is there, however the cause for concern is that Evan hit a few rough patches shooting the ball during his final year at New Hampton.


  • Defense: Smotrycz has bulked up to 225lbs (from 212lbs last summer) which is encouraging in regards to post defense – but defense has never been considered Smotrycz’ strength.
  • Shot selection: Beilein has already pointed out that there “isn’t a shot Evan doesn’t like.” Confidence for a freshman is a good thing, but there might be a learning period where Smotrycz figures out what constitutes a good or bad shot.

Colton Christian


  • Rebounding: From early reports, Christian is one of the top athletes on the team and embraces doing the dirty work. He realizes that cleaning up the glass will get him on the floor.
  • Defense: Similar to rebounding, Christian has also been praised for his defense. Beilein has pointed him out a number of times as a defensive stopper and he probably has the versatility to guard several different offensive positions.


  • Offensive Skill: Christian has admitted that, throughout his prep career, he played almost entirely down low. This is great for his rebounding ability, but at the four position in Beilein’s offense, he needs to be able to put the ball on the floor and knock down jump shots.
  • Size: At 6-foot-6 215lbs, Christian has the ability to guard
    a number of positions. The problem is that the four position, where he’ll play, might not be the ideal position for him to defend. At this point, he doesn’t appear big enough to guard someone like Mike Davis, at 6-foot-9.


The two players are almost complete opposites. One possesses an unnatural combination of size and skill while the other brings the energy, athleticism and defense. At this point, it appears that both are likely to play considerable minutes.

When comparing both players, one thing to keep in mind is how their games will translate to this level. Both players had an extra year of prep, making them 19 year old freshmen, but my thinking is that Christian’s game might allow him to hit the ground running. Smotrycz has more moving parts to his game, offensively there might be things that he could do against prep defenders that just don’t work as easily at this level.

Both players will undoubtedly experience ups and downs, especially early on, but in the non-conference season I expect them both to get plenty of minutes – likely split 50-50 to start.

There is also the (likely?) possibility that Zack Novak will continue to see a lot of time at the four. He still played the position for stretches in Europe (Christian was out) and he has played it for the majority of his first two years in Ann Arbor. Novak is not ideal for the position, and Beilein and Novak himself are telling everyone that will listen that he is a two this year, but if either freshman struggles, or is injured, we will have to see Novak back at the four. (Novak will have his own player profile, coming soon)

The sky is the limit for Evan Smotrycz. He’s tailor made for this offense and the biggest question is just how long it takes him to adapt. Christian’s ceiling is much more limited, but he should be able to do enough of the little things to warrant playing time.

  • It seems to me that Beilin is going to have a lot of options to play match ups this season. I can see him going with big with Morris, Novak, Hardaway, Smotrycz and McLimas or small and quick with Morris, Douglas, Novak/Hardaway, Christian and Smotrycz.

    I don’t know but I’m pretty excited about the team this year. The last two years we were pretty one dimensional. I think this year we’ll see multiple looks that can pose a ton of match up problems. Throw in the 1-3-1 and I think we’re going to be tougher than people are expecting.

  • Kenny

    Dennis rodman, arguably the best defensive specialist in basketball history, is close to 6’6 than listed 6’9. being a legit 6’6, I do not think that height is a problem for Christian as long as he is strong enough.

  • Beast1530

    Charles Barkley was 6’4″ and playing PF. He did more than okay even though his weight helped compensate his lack of height.

  • BlueRev

    Still like the idea of rotating Morgan/Smotz and McLimans/Colton as combos each with a rebounder and scorer. All average 20 mpg with the most effective combo earning PT. Shot-blocking wise McL/Colton could double Morgan/Smotz–but the latter duo may double assists from the former as well.

    It’s not a problem having a 4 and a 5 that can shoot as long as they rebound too. Smotz offensive upside is intriguing and the main key of UM overachieving this season imo.

  • Kenny

    Albert White is about 6’4 to 6’5, and was more than a capable college 4.

  • AC1997

    Some random thoughts:
    — Why is Christian, a relative no-name recruit who is undersized and has very limited offensive game, considered a shoe-in for minutes but Horford is considered a sure red-shirt? I agree that if Christian is a hustle player who can do the dirty work it is easier to get that guy on the floor, but if he’s a black-hole offensively and just a guy on defense then he seems like a red-shirt candidate too.
    — How likely is it that Smotrycz plays some at the 5 if McLimans/Morgan/(Horford) struggle early?
    — If the inverse happens, could we see any scenarios where McLimans and Morgan play at the same time and take minutes from these two?

    My gut feeling is that Smotrycz/Morgan are the starters with Christian/McLimans off the bench. Those seem like good pairings of complimentary skills. I think Christian will see limited minutes based on the opponent, but he’ll be a member of the rotation.

  • Bluebufoon

    Hope I’m wrong but I believe Smotrycz is going to struggle playing
    PF in the Big Ten Conference. Last year in the few games at his Prep School that I watched, Evan was almost non-existent on the defensive end and on the glass. Unless in the last six months Mr Smotrycz has been bitten by a rabid dog, I don’t think the kid is tough enough to bang down low in this conference, intially anyway.

    Conversely, thats what I like about Colton Christian. The reports of Christian’s athleticism, long arms and tenacity are encouraging and leads me to believe Colton is the type of Blue Collar player U-M needs. Michigan needs front-court folks that rebound and defend, that’s why I like Christian.

  • Sam

    AC1997, it’s a pretty simple answer: depth. We already have two 5s that have a year of practice under their belt, a better understanding of the system, and a year of weight training. Jon Horford came in vastly undersized, especially for the Big Ten and is going to need to put on a lot of muscle before he will be effective. At the 4 on the other hand, we have two true freshmen (assuming Novak really does stick at the 2, although I’m sure he’ll see at least some time at the 4). We can’t really stick a true freshman a game for 35 minutes a game, it just doesn’t make sense.

    Now there will certainly be people that come on here saying that Horford is not going to redshirt based on what Beilein has said, but I just don’t see it. He will not be competitive enough yet to compete with two redshirt freshmen and to merit playing time. We also have 6 players who stand as freshmen now, and you can bet that Beilein will want to balance out the classes a little better. Assuming Horford redshirts, he will then move to Brundidge and Burke’s class, because at the moment it doesn’t look like we will be bringing in anyone else for that class. A big man would fit nicely there.

  • gpsimms

    The other thing is that Horford looks on video (not at all an expert, and I’m only referring to a few youtube clips) like he is still figuring out how to move in his body. He is not real quick looking, and while he’s smooth he seems to lack explosive moves.

    Conversely (again, coming from like one youtube clip I saw when we first found out about him), Christian looked explosive/athletic enough to contribute right now. He might be raw skill-wise, but he is at least able to move and defend and a DI level, which is the first requirement for pt.

    Also, mgoblog wins worst player comparison of the century when he wrote that Christian looked like Brent Petway.

  • georgeesq.

    Christian and Smotrycz both played against very high level competition in prep school and held their own. I don’t think that they will be intimidated by the competition they face in college, although there will be an adjustment period to the physical play, especially in the Big 10.

  • Blazerine

    George, I would normally agree with you about the younger bigs being “intimidated” by the Big 10 competition. However, the Euro trip is what makes me think differently. They went overseas and played PRO players, alot with big college experience, and those teams guys’ average age is probably 3-4years on what we’ve got on our roster, in other words they played against MEN.

    Maybe I’m being optimistic but I don’t see our guys being scared of anyone they run into this season. A big part of that is the experience gained from Euro and I think we’ve got some topflight assistants who will impassion our young guys to believe and excel.


  • Tom

    Looking forward to the season. I’m hoping Evan turns has a Robbie Hummel type impact this year. If he can be a solid 10ppg scorer at the 4 that will be awesome. Christian and Evan will complement each other nicely with their different styles.

  • georgeesq.

    Blazerine, I said that they would NOT be intimidated. I agree with you.

  • hoopster

    I think we are going to enjoy watching this young team grow up. Mr. Hardaway Jr. is going to be the big difference for this squad this year. For sure will be an interesting ride.

  • Brick

    Listening to Beilein on the radio today it sounds like Smotrycz and Morgan will be starting on Friday. I think the discussion here was spot on about how different players compliment each other. It seems Beilein wants one of the 4/5 positions to be a shooter so he is splitting up McLimans and Smotrycz. I can’t wait for Friday, I really don’t know what to expect. I think it will be like that all season though. I bet we see at least 5 different players as a game’s leading scorer this year. Maybe 6.

  • Section13Row15

    I’m just excited to watch college basketball again. There will be some frustrating moments. And I’ve learned not to expect too much form freshmen players, but they will all be thrown into the fire this year so it will be nice to see what we are building upon for future seasons. I don’t think we should redshirt Horford because it just eats up another scholarship that we’ll need when Horford is going into his 5th year. Let them all play and see who steps up.

  • GregGoBlue

    I don’t know where some of the people on this board got the idea that a great strength of Jordan Morgan’s is on the boards. At least from preseason action and practice reports, it seems like Morgan is just an average rebounder thus far.

  • georgeesq.

    In a radio interview yesterday, Beilein complimented Horford on his rebounding.

  • Plus–to affirm what Georgeesq and Blazerine are saying–really young guys don’t even know enough to be intimidated, which can be a great thing.

  • MGoYooper

    I’m very excited to see what J-Mo can do this year. If he can hold down the 5 spot, grab 8+ boards a game, and play some solid post D I think that it will open up the floor for the rest of the team.

    Is the scrimmage on Friday on BTN?

  • bird

    National shout out. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/luke_winn/11/03/big.ten.primer/index.html
    Nice, Dylan. Much deserved.

    Did Hummel’s injury dry up PU’s schollies for 2011? Someone at the tavern told me they read that. Does that mean Amir is out for them?

  • Greggoblue,

    On this roster, an “average” rebounder makes him one of the few best on the team.

  • Kenny

    Yooper, the game is only live streamed on bigtennetwork.com. You can get a $7.95 school monthly pass for another two games in November.

  • TheYooper

    Ahh I was really looking forward to seeing the SVSU game because somebody from the U.P. plays there. (its rare for anybody from the U.P. to play college basketball in you case didn’t know) I think he’s #12 (Brett Beland), crazy shooter but not much else.