Friday, April 13, 2007

Big Ten Year in Review - The Michigans

Part Three in a six-part series takes us to the state that's shaped like a mitten...being stabbed by an icepick.

BIG BLUE (22-13 overall; 8-8 conference)

Oh, where do we start? It's not often that a Golden Boy-coached Iowa team isn't the most dysfunctional in the conference, but this was a strange year for teams in the Big Ten, and Michigan's was certainly one of the strangest.

From the preview:
They have a whole helluva lot of talent. They return a lot of scoring (Lester Abram, Dion Harris), some size (the overrated Courtney Sims), and enough youngsters to fill out a pretty decent starting five....It's not enough to make up for the fact that Tommy Amaker is coaching. Seriously, is there a college with more incompetence in important positions that Mich? Amaker, Carr, Mary Sue Coleman (that's just bitterness, but still)....11-3 non-conference, 7-9 conference, 18-12 overall.
I Was Right:

Another round of props for me. This was damn close to the truth.

Not only can I predict the future,
But I'm also A MIND TAKER!

Courtney Sims leaves UMich as arguably theirr most overrated player since...well, since Brent Petway. And Dion Harris. And let's throw Lester Abram in there, too. Quite frankly, I don't remember a Michigan basketball player meeting the hype since the Fab Five, and I certainly don't remember seeing one under Amaker.

And therein lies the problem. I don't think anyone will question Amaker's ability as a recruiter; there was hardly a more athletic team in the Big Ten this season than Michigan (save for tOSU). It was his ability to improve his players from game-to-game and year-to-year that became a problem. Just as you could set your watch by the horrible road loss that would send Iowa's season spiraling out of control, you could also pick the moment in every year where Michigan would absolutely quit playing any semblance of team basketball, ignore the pleading and begging of Tommy A, and start jacking up every half-open shot they could get.

Michigan averaged 1.2 more turnovers than assists this season, and that wasn't for a surplus of turnovers. At no point in the Amaker era did you watch Michigan and feel there was any flow offensively. Nobody on this team ever wanted to pass the ball. Sims only got the ball through offensive rebounds (though this was a blessing; he never developed anything in the low post). When the team forgot about Sims for stretches of the game (most notably the second half collapses against Iowa and tOSU), an already-slow and already-exhausted Sims would simply lose interest, pick up a bad foul or a turnover, and put the opponents in position to win. Never did it feel like Amaker had any control of this team whatsoever; inevitably, the cameras would catch him sitting on the sidelines, legs crossed, obviously daydreaming about rainbows and unicorns. And, true to form, he's now at Harvard.

I Was Wrong:

I said they would be 18-12. They were 20-11. And again, I had no idea that kind of record would get you in the discussion for the NCAA's. If they had gotten into the tournament, I would have been forced to start my own bizzaro NCAA tournament in an attempt to stop the injustice of it all.


Lord only knows what Bielien can do there. He actually inherits a couple of pretty decent perimeter shooters, but he's probably going to have to start his first practice with the two-hand chest pass (forgotten under the previous regime) and build from there. Like Iowa, it may be a couple of seasons before he finally starts paying dividends, but he's a good coach with a proven track record, and he obviously wants to be there. While 2007-08 may be rough at Big Blue, the future isn't too bad.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (23-12 overall; 8-8 conference)

There wasn't much of a preview, mostly because I decided it was better to post five straight pictures of Mateen Cleaves grinning like a moron. I did say they would go 23-8, 10-6 conference.

We all know the key to this team was Drew Neitzel, and that he'll be the key again next year. Izzo didn't go to UK, so there's nothing new coming from MSU any time soon. They had zero - I repeat, ZERO - seniors, so you're getting this team again. And even if they had lost a bunch of players, the post-Mateen Spartans are eerily similar and, in a way, Bizzaro Big Blue. They always look like they might be outmanned, but Izzo puts them through the meat grinder in November and December, and by the time Big Ten play begins they are tougher than every other team in the conference. They inevitably take Iowa behind the woodshed, beat the tar out of at least 3 teams they shouldn't be on the floor with, and make it to the tournament with something like a #6 seed, where they usually win a tough game one, upset someone in game two, and nobly bow out to a superior opponent in the sweet 16.

Did they play immensely boring, limited-possession, grind-it-out basketball so unwatchable it made Bill Simmons stick his head in the oven? Yeah. Did they turn the ball over far too often? Sure. Do I expect that again next year? I don't think you'll see all the turnovers, but probably something close to this is returning.

So, instead of chronicling what's going to happen next season (something like 21-9, 11-5, 3 wins in the tournament, every minute of it boring the crap out of me), let's take one more look at Mateen Cleaves grinning like an idiot:

Those were the days...


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