I have some great news for you, Nittany Lion fans. SBNation has added Maize n Brew to our ever growing network. If you ever read Dave's stuff on his old site you know he is a great writer that provides great analysis with that witty humor we've all come to expect from those Michigan bloggers.
Dave is a Big Ten basketball junkie. Being a Michigan fan he gets to, you know, watch his team on television and stuff. He's started up a great feature he calls the Big Ten Hoops Power Rankings. Currently he has PSU ranked at #9 in the Big Ten which sucks, but who here is going to argue with him? Anyway, Penn State and Michigan are scheduled to square off tomorrow night in Ann Arbor and Dave wanted to do a little roundtable thing. So I gave him some questions and he was gracious enough to answer them. He'll be giving me some questions to answer soon, so check in at Maize n Brew to see that later. For now, enjoy the roundtable discussion.
BSD - How would you say Michigan's season has gone so far? Underachieved, overachieved, or about where you thought they would be?
MnB - Ugh. Underachieved in a magnificently brutal way. Michigan's schedule is horrendous. In the only face-saving games on the schedule Michigan has allowed itself to be totally blown out on National Television. Michigan trailed by 20 against NC State in the second half. Michigan was humiliated by UCLA, almost losing by 40. Michigan went down 17 to the Hoyas in the second half and showed no pulse after the break. Sadly, I think despite their mind bendingly scitzo performances; they're actually ahead of where I expected them to be this season. This is due in large part to the surprising roles Michigan's freshmen have played. Given how good the freshmen have been, which NO ONE expected, Michigan should have at least 1 decent win under its belt. Unfortunately, Michigan's senior leaders have stagnated or regressed, so where Michigan should be and where they are two separate stories.
BSD - Which direction would you say the program as a whole is heading?
MnB - Nowhere this year, but it could be on the rise next year. The program this year is in a strange form of limbo that while not difficult to describe, brings intense abdominal pain and rectal spasms to anyone who attempts to do so. Luckily for you I've grown accustomed to the pain. For the past four years Michigan has been homage to the launch of the Hindenburg. It floats gracefully for 30 seconds then implodes in a ball of flame, consuming your heart and soul, and doing so over a period of time roughly equivalent to, oh say the month before the NCAA tournament selection process. It've been more humane for Michigan to dump its supporters in the Sarlac pit for the last four-year stretch. But I digress...
The future, dare I say, looks really bright for Michigan. Not just because the seniors who are so badly underperforming are leaving, but also because Amaker has legitimately recruited four can't miss players in DeShawn Sims, Ekpe Udoh, Manny Harris, and Alex Legion. Even Kelvin Grady, a three star 2007 commit at point guard could end up 4 stars before the end of the recruiting season. Making matters more interesting Michigan is seriously in the running for All-World Power Forward Uber-Recruit Delvon Roe and Super Center Kenny Frease in the 2008 recruiting classes. Frease mentions Michigan as tied for his services and Roe has Michigan listed with OSU, KU, UNC, and MSU. Michigan beat out a number of NCAA teams to make Roe's short list and Amaker has routinely gotten good press from Roe. Land one and Michigan's in business. Land both. Well. My head would explode.
BSD - Rectal spasms and heads exploding? I think we're going to need a mop in here. In the meantime, summarize Michigan's style of play for us.
MnB - Style of play? Ha! Man... that's a good one. Oh wait. You're serious. Do turnovers count as a "style"?
Michigan honestly lacks a definitive style other than "stand around with the ball, pass it from time to time at the top of the key, and then launch a long range shot as the shot clock winds down."
It's really frustrating because Michigan can actually operate a high pick and roll or screen with some effectiveness when it tries. Dion Harris and Lester Abram are Michigan's primary outside shooters with Courtney Sims as Michigan's interior presence. When Sims is 1-on-1, he's dominant. However, Michigan has a tendency to force lobs into Sims, which often get turned over. Further, teams that quickly double Sims usually force him to either cough up the ball or loft a crappy desperation fade away.
I wish I could be more specific, but there is no style other than Chaos.
BSD - Sounds familiar. What has been the Maize-n-Blue's Achilles heel this season?
MnB - Inside play. When a team has a four-year starting big man, who is 6'11" with an arm span a DC10 would be jealous of, and he can't crack double digits in anything against a 6'7" power forward, well, you've got your problem. And it's not just Sims. Michigan's very own AND1 performer Brent Petway is also part of the problem. While Petway can out dunk anyone, and I mean ANYONE on the basketball court, he truly lacks an offensive game suited for the college level. Petway has limited offensive skills on the floor and Sims, despite his size, plays at about 6'4". With Petway and Sims sucking up minutes and contributing little offensively, and in Sims case nothing defensively, you've got your heel.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Defense in general is a problem for Michigan. The Wolverines have had a miserable time adjusting to pick and rolls and high screens. There is also the inexplicable tendency of Amaker to go to a zone defense when trailing big against teams that can shoot from the outside. I'd have to say after the Michigan's lack of an inside presence, coaching is the next biggest problem.
BSD - In your estimation, what does Penn State have to do to turn around their program? We do well in recruiting for football, and places like UConn, Michigan, and Ohio State seem to get players up north. We have a great facility dedicated to basketball. What else do we have to do?
MnB - At this point I don't know. Image is probably 90% of the problem. If PSU is going to compete in the Big Ten in basketball, it's going to have to make a splash in the coaching department. Look at the effect Vito Corleon, I mean Thad Mata has had at OSU. Coaching makes a HUGE difference at the college level. Good coaches get the good kids. Good coaches make okay players good and good ones great. But a bad coach can turn a can't miss kid into a drive thru attendant. With good facilities and a great fanbase, my guess would be better coaching would get the ball rolling toward making PSU a Big Ten Basketball power.
BSD - Thanks, Dave, and welcome to SBN. I'm looking forward to discussing the Big Ten with you down the road.
(Remember to check out Maize n Brew to see my answers to Dave's questions soon)