To the Point: Merritt Talks Michigan State, Darius Morris and More

Dylan Burkhardt
on

tothepoint-side1[1]Former Wolverine, current radio commentator and friend of the blog, David Merritt agreed to answer a couple questions about Michigan’s season thus far and Saturday’s game against Michigan State.

You played on teams that had to cope with the weight of the NCAA Tournament hanging over your head — including some that fell short and one that celebrated on Selection Sunday. How hard is it to keep the right mindset and how do you see this team reacting to a game this big — rivalry, NCAA tournament implications, etc.?

I feel like I say this every single time I’m asked a question like this. So if I’m being repetitive, please excuse me. Coach Beilein is great at keeping things in perspective. Yes, making it to the NCAA Tournament is the end goal, however, we focus on winning the day that’s present. That means… let’s win in practice today, let’s win in the weight room, etc. Let’s give our all to today. And the belief is that at the end of the season, if we’ve won our share of individual days with great focus and effort, chances are we’ll be dancing come March. And I think Coach Beilien has done a wonderful job of getting this through to the team throughout the season, even when they were 1-6 to start Big Ten play. With all that said, I think this team has nothing to lose, similar to our team in 08-09. They were expected to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten this year and no one really expected 18 wins at this point in the season. As a result, this young squad can just go out, play hard and see what happens. I expect a very close game on Saturday and hopefully we can pull it out.

Talk about Michigan’s offense… Obviously hitting perimeter shots help the offense but what else do you see that has caused it to be so efficient in conference play?

  1. The pick-and-roll action
  2. The focus on attacking the rim
  3. The emergence of Tim Hardaway, Jr.

All three factors have greatly increased Michigan’s efficiency at the offensive end in conference play. Darius is still doing his thing off of the pick-and-roll, putting the defense in a pickle having to guard multiple actions at the same time. And it really has been interesting to see the team as a whole focus on getting into the paint and making some things happen. It doesn’t always end up in an easy score, however, it’s great that guys like Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass even, are keeping the defense honest by putting the ball on the floor consistently. Lastly, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been dynamite, which has opened up the offense. He’s not only making plays for himself, but he’s got a very high basketball IQ, and can make the right decisions coming off of the pick-and-roll as well.

Darius Morris has been remarkable all season but he did go through a bit of a tough patch in the first half of the Big Ten season. What do you see about him that has changed? His mindset? Demeanor? Something else? How has he improved.

Darius is still so young. That’s the crazy part about it. 15 and 7 as a sophomore. No one else in the country is putting up those numbers. Lately, I think Darius, for the most part, is staying within himself, which is important. He’s done a good job of really being sensitive to what the team needs at different points in the game. That’s what you want from your point guard. He’s improved so much from last year and I’m excited to see what he’s able to add to his game over the summer.

What are your thoughts on Matt Vogrich? He’s still a bit limited but has given Michigan some quality play lately. Is he starting to turn the corner?

You have to give Matt Vogrich a ton of credit! He had his struggles defensively and shooting the 3 in his freshman season. However, he worked extremely hard to improve his defense and play tougher and it’s shown. He constantly gets key rebounds or makes a play here or a play there to help us win. And a lot of times, it’s on the defensive end. I think if Matt continues to work hard, he can improve even more.

What are your keys to beating Michigan State? Does Michigan need to shoot the lights out to beat the Spartans?

I’m so excited for this one!!! You think they will let me suit up and cheer? I just want to cheer on the bench. The number one key to beating State is matching their toughness. They haven’t played as tough as Tom Izzo would like recently, however, you can bet they’ll bring it on Saturday. So number one, you have to match their toughness on the glass and getting to 50/50 balls. Once they realize you aren’t backing down one bit, you’re in good shape. I do believe Michigan will have to make shots. They don’t have to make 20 3’s, but another 6 from Zack Novak would be nice. A lot of these games end up coming down to who wants it more and who’s going to make the right plays down the stretch. Good thing about it… Michigan’s had a lot of experience with this type of game lately.

David Merritt is a former Michigan basketball captain and played on the 2008-2009 NCAA Tournament Team. David is also the founder of I Miss You, Inc. & The IMU Brand, an apparel company focused on offering high quality product while spreading happiness and bettering communities.

You can reach Merritt through his twitter accountblog, or e-mail.

  • Alex

    This is great stuff. That mindset is going to be crucial for this game and during the BTT. It’s awesome when a team drastically exceeds expectations. Let’s close out the deal but whatever happens this has been a tremendous season.

  • Laura

    Anyone else hear that Izzo guaranteed a win in his press conference?

  • Laura

    Ok. He said they are going to find a way to win. Just hope everyone is ready. I know Beilein will have them ready. I just wish it was Saturday already!!!!!!!

  • http://www.offtackleempire.com GregGoBlue

    Great Q on Vogrich. I think Merritt’s point is on par that Vogrich is overcoming his ceiling athletically with tremendous effort and focus, and it shows in hustle plays like tough rebounds and making key plays for the team when it counts. As a major detractor of Vogrich’s last season, I’m very impressed with his turnaround this season (especially on the defensive end) and I expect that with continued effort, there is much more to come in the future from Vogrich. Bravo.

    • sven

      I don’t think he is overcoming anything honestly. His ability to knock down a shot here or there doesn’t justify his total lack of defense or ball handling ability. Unless we see some major improvement over the off-season I really hope all of his minutes go to whichever freshman is more ready to play.

      • paul r

        Vogrich is the ONLY guy when in the game that the defense NEVER leaves. I like it when he is in the game. It opens up the middle for DMo to drive and he is money when left open.

      • ToBlav

        Sven – your statement on Vogrich is harsh, and overstated to the point of being unfair. He has improved and makes solid contributions. When he is in the game the oppontent has a defender glued to his shirt and Darius has room to operate. Having all the shooters is why the way we’re playing works.

        • sven

          Having players who can actually shoot AND dribble more than 3 times in a row without having to pick up the ball would open up Darius even more.

          • Dylan Burkhardt

            Vogrich has picked up 2 reb and 2 assists in both of the last games and has knocked down a three. He’s been pretty productive lately.

          • Joe Stapleton

            Paul R is on point, actually. Beilein has said on numerous occasions that having Vogrich on the floor shifts the focus of the opposing defense and opens up options for Darius and co.

      • Azad

        I was really down on Vogrich earlier in the season, because he was tentative shooting and didn’t seem to be adding a whole lot more. Lately though, he has shown a lot more confidence stepping into his shot when he’s out there, and he hasnt’ been too much of a liability otherwise. He also seems very willing to go mix it up for a rebound and has grabbed a few. I certainly think his minutes may end up going to more talented players next year, but I’ve appreciated the effort lately.

        • Azad

          Also, for what it’s worth, in that Penn State game we played when we only had about 13 points with 4 minutes left in the first half, Vogrich hit 2 threes in that game and helped us really stem the tide while the rest of the offense struggled and Hardaway sat the bench. Given how big a win that is proving to be now, I’m happy with his contributions thus far.

  • http://umhoops.com KAB

    Jerry Palm now has us IN on his latest bracket..

    • JimC

      Joe Lunardi, where are you?!
      If this guy is “…considered the foremost expert on bracketology”…then he’s due to be replaced! He hasn’t updated his bracket since Feb 28! It’s March 3 man! How many game have been played since Feb 28!?

      • Dylan Burkhardt

        He usually updates his brackets on Mondays and Fridays I think.

      • sven

        That douche didn’t even have us in the last 8 out in his last update.

        • sven

          Never mind. I didn’t see us there playing Baylor.

      • Xerxes

        He’s been giving his recent bracket usually on SportsCenter. He was on last right around 11pm and nothing really changed – with us in the 3rd spot of the Last Four In.

  • http://umhoops.com KAB

    We seem to be moving up by not even playing.All the bubble teams are falling.

    • Azad

      I am starting to think more and more that if we find a way to beat the Spartans on Saturday, that’ll end up being about 2 full weeks of people thinking that we’re a team that’s solidly in, and the combo of public perception + these other weak bubble teams not doing anything to help their cause may get us into the tournament even if we lose the 4/5 game in the Big Ten Tournament…maybe that’s just wishful thinking, but right now it seems to me like 20 wins is a lock to get us in and 19’s not out of the question…

      • MarcO

        Good points Azad. The scheduling + weak play of the other bubble teams = beat MSU and dance.

      • Mith

        I agree. We’re not a lock if we beat State, but that very well may be enough.

      • mistersuits

        Yep, the way the bubble is going at the moment is great for Michigan. With a victory over MSU, Michigan finishes (and wins the tie-breaker) for 4th place in the B1G. There would be zero chances for anymore “bad” losses. With the bubble this weak, every bracketologist would pretty much have to include a 19-12(9-9) UM in their brackets.

        Think about it: a fourth place regular season finish (in a 6 bid conference) when we were predicted to finish 9th, 10th, or last! Woohoo! Go Blue!

  • paul r

    I think if UM beats Sparty…they are in. regardless of the 4/5 game . 5 th place in reg season in the #2 RPI conference gets them in. 4 road wins vs. better than average teams(Clemson, Penn St., MSU. Minn,) will help. GO BLUE. should be fun scene at Crisler Saturday..

  • http://umhoops.com KAB

    Yea Lunardi will have his new bracket Friday.Everyone pretty much has us in now so I will be surprised if Lunardi has us out tom.

    • steve

      well he had us as last 4 in before all these bubble teams lost… so we might not even be in the play-in game in his next update

      • JimC

        Ha!

        I’m just wondering….what else does Joe Lunardi DO? I mean, isn’t this prime time for bracketologists. I would think he could update his brackets every other day at least.
        But maybe he’s got a real job on top of being a bracket head.

        • ATLblue

          He is President of communications at St. Joe’s

          • um basketball fan

            He also teaches a “Bracketology 101″ course there, believe it or not. Best way to get college credits ever.

  • MarcO

    What radio station broadcasts the games? Is it 1050 AM (WTKA)?

    • JimC

      WWJ 950 AM covers almost every UM game.
      WTKA 1050 has some of them (when they aren’t doing hockey, etc).

      • Laura

        If it is not on there it is also on 102.9 FM the local country station. Sounds weird but that is where it goes.

        • MarcO

          Thanx Laura and JimC. I checked mgblue.com and it’s broadcast on 1050. I have a communion to go to and I doubt they will have the game on there. :(

          Looks like I’ll be in the bathroom a lot , one of those days :)

          Hail.

          • http://www.offtackleempire.com GregGoBlue

            the TEAM, the TEAM, the TEAM. I like your commitment.

  • http://umhoops.com KAB

    The heck wih what Izzo said..He is just scared to death of this game and know’s that his team is going to be in trouble.Michigan is probably the last team he wanted to see right now,(exsp.in Ann Arbor)…

    • MarcO

      I thought Izzo sounded scared.

      • ForeverBlue23

        Scared? Maybe it’s because he’s facing a coach who relies on teaching and command of x’s and o’s rather than screaming, calling out his players and self-promotion.

        • Fred_Ex

          I don’t think Izzo is scared, this is the biggest game of the season, but he has played in bigger games. Izzo like him or not is an old pro, he’s not going to shake or rattle. The players are the one’s going to be effected by the maize out. I just cannot figure out how the good guys lose this game. A week off, hotter than a two dollar pistol, the atmosphere, at home, already one on the road. Not to mention the bubble picture really couldn’t have been better for Michigan this week. I’m starting to think it’s destiny (knock on wood)