Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Big Apple, Big Stage: UM vs UCLA Preview

The College Basketball season has finally gotten into full swing starting today, and I have to start by saying I have been very impressed with ESPN’s 24 hrs of College Basketball coverage.  This was an excellent scheduling ploy, and I loved watching basketball at 2 AM with St. Mary’s playing at home (Sidenote: Patty Mills is for real. Gets his own shot very similar to the way Iverson did back in college. He will be a name you hear come tourney time). I went to sleep with St. Mary's on and woke up in time watch the end of Hawaii/Idaho State.  It was a basketball fan's dream.

It reminded me of that first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament when basketball is on for 12 hours straight and you would always try and skip class/watch the game at work.  I’ve often said on this blog that those two days are the best consecutive sports days of the year, and I think ESPN could run with this “season opener marathon” idea in the coming years.  Put a couple more marquee games on the slate (ESPN scheduled only one game against ranked opponents in Davidson/Oklahoma and UNC/Kentucky is the next closest thing) and this marathon could be a ratings monster.  I'd also like to see more mid-major teams against the big conferences. ( For example, Oakland beat Oregon in OT on the West Coast, and was a much better match-up on paper than some of the other games shown today.)  I would have seriously considered calling-in sick had ESPN shown something other than Iowa/Kansas women's basketball at noon.  No offense to fans of Women’s Bball, but no women’s regular season match-up generates enough excitement worth cutting class for.  Not even Tenn/UConn.  Hopefully ESPN gives me something I can stay home for next year.

Finally, ESPN’s coverage doesn’t receive total praise from me as they dropped the ball in one of the day's final games in Syracuse/Richmond. The new “Interactive Messaging,” where they scroll fan messages across the top of the screen, is just another example of news networks ramming pointless technology down your throat.  This should be banned, along with CNN’s “Hologram Technology” and MSNBC’s “Virtual Pantheon” background from election night. It all needs to go. Now.


OK, back to the Wolverines. Here’s a couple things to watch for on Thursday:


Getting On the Glass:  Michigan has been out rebounded twice: once by a GLIAC team (exhibition) and the other by a CAA that got 20 Offensive rebounds.  Michigan has failed to block out on a consistent basis and will need to shore that up against the Bruins. Bruins F Alfred Aboya is averaging 6.5 boards a game with the team getting 35.3 rpg.  Ben Howland’s teams have always rebounded well (back to his days at Pitt), and the Wolverines will struggle if they don’t get on the glass early.


The Collison Effect:  PG Darren Collison is arguably the best on-the-ball defender in all the land.  He is lightning quick and made Kelvin Grady look like an eighth grader when these two teams played last year.  On Offense, Beilein will be forced to rotate CJ Lee, David Merritt, and Kelvin Grady.  None of these guys can match Collison’s quickness, but fresh legs should help a little bit. The point of interest here is whether or not the Bruins decide to put Collison on Manny Harris or give that assignment to Josh Shipp.  Look for Shipp to start on Harris, but if Manny gets hot don’t be surprised to see Collison start to put pressure on Harris and funnel him toward the help defense.


The One They Call “Fresh”: Manny Harris was named Big Ten Player of the Week last week and rightfully so.  On consecutive points, he put up 56 points and almost dropped a triple-double on a team that just got done giving Providence a reality check.  Harris has been great and could potentially become the first player to average 20 ppg since a guy by the name of Juwan Howard (actually, the last guy to do it was Louis Bullock, but “technically” that never happened…).  Harris needs to get started early in order to give guys like Anthony Wright and Stu Douglass opportunities to play “Beilein Ball” and hit open threes.


Last note on Harris: A lot of fans I’ve talked to have voiced their concern that Harris could go pro at the end of the season.  To them I say this:  Harris making the jump to the pros would be the worst decision since MSU’s Marcus Taylor tried to make the jump early as a Sophmore and was drafted 52nd overall by the Timberwolves. Taylor was promptly cut after camp and was never heard from again.  However, I think Harris is smarter than Taylor and knows the level of skill needed to make the transition.  He has a bright future ahead of him.   However, NBAdraft.net has Harris not even on the board in ’09 and as a late first round pick in 2010. I agree with that assessment and will wait one more season before I seriously talk about his NBA prospects.


The Frontcourt:  I can only hope that Zach Gibson watched the game film from last week and totally changed his outlook of how he needs to approach this game against UCLA.  Hopefully the game film, plus the cold weather this week, has ignited a Rocky-like fire inside him.  Try and picture Gibson running up the steps of the Angell Hall in a gray sweatsuit, knit cap, and Chuck Taylors.  Few things would motivate me to get to Angell Hall before 9 AM in the winter, but witnessing this would be one of them.  While I have trouble seeing it, I think this is the mentality he needs to adopt to rebound from last week’s performance against Northeastern.  Both Gibson and Sims could really be effective against a somewhat undersized front-line of UCLA (Aboya at C is closer to 6’8 than his listed 6’9).  Look for Beilein to go inside early to test Aboya.


Other points of interest: Douglass needs to have a big game to give UM a shot, CJ Lee makes his Big Apple return, Michigan’s first National TV appearance of the year, and UM Bball could have fewer losses than UM Hockey heading into the Christmas break.  Didn’t think I’d be saying that a year ago…

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