With KJ’s retirement, Tim Conner is taking over the reigns as the chief representative of The Only Colors to participate in this year’s Around the Big Ten season preview feature. Conner agreed to answer questions about last year as well as what will make this year different. (Previously: Penn State, Minnesota, Ohio State)
It’s tough to define last year as anything but a disappointment for Michigan State fans. With Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers gone, what are expectations like for the coming season?
It was not a fun year to be a Spartan fan. The team had one of the worst offenses of the Tom Izzo era and seemed gripped by turmoil and frustration throughout the season. Izzo himself was suspended a game for a secondary NCAA rules violation, guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious were dismissed from the team, and a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed a predictable end to a long and trying season. Still, they did end up with 19 wins and managed to make the Tournament for the 14th straight year.
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Photo: Michigan Basketball on Facebook
It was a big weekend for Michigan as the Wolverines had a pair of important scrimmages, an inter-squad scrimmage on Friday and a scrimmage at Toledo on Sunday. At media day, John Beilein discussed what a critical role these scrimmages and exhibition game (Friday vs. Wayne State) play in determining the regular season line up and rotation.
The scrimmage on Sunday was closed to the public and deemed “secret” by the NCAA but it’s become an annual ritual for tidbits to spread across the internet. The reports generally have very little correlation to the season’s results as they are glorified practices that are heavy on situational play and lineup tinkering.
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Mitch McGary is ready to announce his college decision next week which means that speculation and rumors will be a dime-a-dozen for the next several days. One of the most respected scouts, analysts or insiders in the world of basketball recruiting, Dave Telep, posted his two cents on the situation this afternoon. Telep calls the McGary recruitment “one of those rare full circle situations” and quotes an assistant coach as predicting McGary to Michigan:
Next week, Mitch McGary (Chesterton, Ind./Brewster) will decide between Michigan, Duke and Florida. He officially visited each school except for Florida. “I think the kid’s getting kind of burnt out with it,” one college assistant said. “I think the kid’s going to Michigan.”
This is on the verge of becoming one of those rare full circle situations. A few weeks ago, the Wolverines were on the verge of getting a commitment from McGary; I believe that. At that point, a number of programs, sensing that Michigan was close, began chipping away. When a leader emerges — as Michigan did — it makes it easy for every school to see whom they have to beat and therefore the leader winds up under attack. A lot of times, the perceived leader never recovers and fades. In this case, Michigan appears to have overcome the objections and has itself positioned to nab the top power forward in the country next week. Now, here’s the caveat: this situation has changed before, therefore it could change again but right now it’s on autopilot and the guy flying the plane likes the Wolverines.
At Big Ten Media Day on Thursday, I talked to several different players around the conference and asked them a handful of questions about playing Michigan and Michigan’s key players. There were only two or three players there from each team, so the guys there were some of the best players in the league who have been around for awhile.
I never asked about the departed Darius Morris but, nearly every player I talked to mentioned him. “I bet there’s a lot of teams in the league that are pretty happy that Darius Morris left,” said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor, “because that definitely makes a difference.” Added Michigan State guard Austin Thornton: “Anytime you have a point guard like they’ve had in Morris, it makes for a very good team.” So does that mean since Darius gone, the Wolverines will be a bad team this year? Not necessarily – but it did seem pretty clear that opponents are sleeping easier knowing that Darius is gone.
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Michigan is ranked 18th the Associated Press Top 25 media poll that was released this afternoon. The Wolverines are also ranked 18th in the USA Today Coaches Poll which was announced last week.
Michigan is the one of three Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25, coming in behind Ohio State (3) and Wisconsin (15). Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota also received votes.
Memphis, the Wolverines’ opening opponent at the Maui Invitational, is ranked 11th in the preseason poll. Three other schools in the Maui Invitational are ranked in the top 25 including Duke (6), Kansas (13) and UCLA (17).
The last time Michigan was ranked in the top 25 poll was November 23rd, 2009 when the Wolverines were ranked 15th. Click here to view the complete AP Top 25 preseason poll.