The Michigan coaching staff will be on the road for the next month but the team, both newcomers and returnees, is on campus and ready to work.
May and June provide opportunities for players to get better on their own. Go to China, Latvia or workout with a personal trainer. Now, as the clock rolls around to July it’s time to start putting the pieces back together as a unit. As far away as next season feels, the start of practice is just over three months away. The roster is finalized – freshmen are on campus and Darius Morris has been drafted away to Los Angeles – and it’s finally safe to begin examining the rotation for the 2011-12 team.
The most important thing to remember when analyzing potential lineup combinations is that John Beilein isn’t known for using a deep bench. Last year’s starters played 81% of the available minutes, a figure that ranked 337th among 345 Division I teams. If Beilein has a top group of 7 players he’s going to stick with that group. Last year Michigan had just six players play in all 35 games and only seven average more than seven minutes per game.
KJ, formerly of The Only Colors, created a stat called “depth ratio”, which is computed by dividing the minutes played by the top 2 players by the minutes played by the 8th and 9th players in the rotation. He concluded that the best Michigan State teams generally have a depth ratio of under 3.0 with the figure generally measuring somewhere between 2.0-5.0 over the last decade. For comparison, Michigan’s depth ratio last season was 7.38.
This year’s roster features an interesting combination of veteran talent, developing sophomores and exciting incoming freshmen. It will be a juggling act to involve everyone in a rotation. Does Beilein go with his normal seven-man rotation or does he expand to a nine man rotation? The easiest way to examine the roster is by breaking it down into tiers:
The Starters: Trey Burke, Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan
This group should be the everyday starting group to start the season and it’s their responsibility to hold onto their respective spots. Hardaway, Morgan and Novak are locks as they started all but one game combined last season. Burke and Smotrycz are the more interesting picks.
Smotrycz had an up and down freshman season, losing his starting spot, but finished on a high note. He spent the off season getting bigger, now weighing over 230lbs, and becoming more explosive. He made 38% of his threes as a 6-foot-9 freshman and if the rest of his game can start to catch up, he’ll be a factor offensively.
Including Burke in the lineup might raise some eyebrows, but the freshman will receive every opportunity to shine early on. Michigan needs Trey to play and play well. Darius Morris was handed the keys as a freshman and Burke should be in a similar position. Burke isn’t the passer or floor general that Morris was last season but his outside shooting will add another wrinkle to the pick and roll. How quickly can he pick up the offense as a freshman? That question will have lasting implications on Michigan’s season.
The Bench: Stu Douglass, Matt Vogrich, Jon Horford
The next tier is the primary group of substitutes. These guys are playing regular backup minutes in every game and are the first sub at their respective positions – guard, wing or post.
Stu Douglass is the perfect sixth man in this scenario because he’s able to play the one or the two, and has played both for significant portions of his career. Douglass started the last two seasons as the team’s sixth man but he finished both seasons as a starter, averaging over 32 minutes per game in Big Ten play. He’s not a natural fit at the point guard, but can suffice in a backup role. I’ve argued in the past that Douglass would be most effective playing around 25 minutes per game. With Morris on the roster this seemed possible, even likely, but without Morris it seems that Douglass will see his minute totals creep up yet again this season.
Vogrich had some impressive performances down the stretch, most notably his 11 points versus Tennessee, and has proven himself as a capable shooter. He’s the best fit to back-up Tim Hardaway Jr. at the three but backing up the team’s best player isn’t the easiest way to play more minutes. Vogrich earned some time at the two last year, and if he’s going to play more than the 14 minutes per game that he played last year, he’ll have to prove that he can play that position regularly.
Horford demonstrated his potential last season, mostly with his impressive rebounding numbers in limited minutes, but he also had his fair share of struggles. He seemed a step slow mentally on both ends, had some injuries and never managed to see consistent playing time. Reportedly up to 250 pounds, Horford is the natural fit to back-up Jordan Morgan if he’s able to make some natural progression this summer.
The X-Factors: Carlton Brundidge, Max Bielfeldt, Blake McLimans, Colton Christian, Eso Akunne
This group doesn’t appear to be in the day-to-day rotation, but does provide unique traits that are generally lacking throughout the roster. Whether it’s foul trouble, injuries or situational match-ups there are a number of scenarios where this group could be needed.
There’s the possibility that one or two players from this group could find regular backup minutes: Brundidge at the two? Bielfeldt or Christian at the four?
Brundidge is a smaller off guard that needs to find a position – on both ends of the floor. Bielfeldt could provide minutes at the four but would need to prove more effective than Smotrycz or the small lineup with Novak. McLimans’s redshirt freshman year was painful but if he can become consistent with his jumpshot there are situations when he could be an option. Christian provides a boost of athleticism at the four for short spurts but hasn’t provided much of any offensive production (besides this). Akunne is a potential back-up point guard option, but would have to do a lot to surpass Burke or Douglass on the depth chart.
This is how things look right now and there will certainly be questions answered throughout practice, exhibitions and early season games.