The Wolverine

November 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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2011-12 basketball preview J By John Borton ohn Beilein is nothing if not consistent. One year ago, everyone told him Michigan���s chances of making the NCAA Tournament were similar to his chances of beating Denard Robinson in a 40-yard dash. He didn���t care. Beilein didn���t want to talk about expectations ��� just about his team improving, day by day. This year, everyone is telling him Michigan projects as an NCAA Tournament team and a top-three Big Ten squad, the loss of starting point guard Darius Morris notwithstanding. He doesn���t care. Mention expectations ��� ask whether his team should pencil March Madness onto its annual preseason legal pad ��� and he���ll give you the formula. ���We���re still working, still hunting that every day,��� Beilein said. ���I don���t think we���re at that point. We still have a lot to prove. We were sweating on Selection Sunday last year despite [eventually garnering] the eight seed. Based on the league and the schedule, we���re going to have to perform early and in the season, as well. There are a lot of good teams with a lot of good coaches out there. ���We���re a veteran team, but not loaded with juniors and seniors with tons of playing experience. We have Stu [Douglass], Zack [Novak] and Matt Vogrich. Matt comes off the bench, a great bench player. We have a bunch of sophomore veterans. It is helpful for practice, for the culture we���ve tried to create here and how we go about our business. I do like that.��� Novak and Douglass can go about business in their senior seasons pointing to a goal almost unfathomable when they arrived as rookies. They can lead Michigan to a third NCAA Tournament in four seasons, after a decade of Wolverine squads wandering in the wilderness. Beilein and his coaches remain all about the process. It���s what worked last season, they insist, and it���s the only way to go about getting where they want to be. ���The expectations are only different externally,��� assistant coach LaVall Jordan noted. ���Our expectation is to get better today, and to win the next 52��� the wolverine��� ������ November 2011 game. That was the expectation before, so I don���t know if that changes a whole lot. ���Get better today. If you���re driven by that, the results come. When we were backs against the wall last year, we got to that. Hey, we���re just going to come in the gym and get better. ���We don���t want to talk too much about last year, but if we could take that mentality ��� we just came in and we got better. We started getting the results we desired after that.��� Getting There Wolverines Haven���t Arrived, But Expect To Dance Like Beilein, Jordan appreciates the steady leadership coming from the two Indiana-born seniors. Their guidance has already been praised by Michigan���s incoming performers, giving the Wolverines the culture the head coach promised to create ��� players teaching players. ���Zack and Stu have been there before,��� Jordan noted. ���They���ve been on the roller coaster, a little bit, throughout their career. They���ve had a successful year and then [a year in which] they didn���t meet their own expectations, then getting back up. They understand how to prioritize. ���They���ve done a great job of relaying that to the young guys and to the rest of the team, and everybody is on board.��� Novak recalls well the year Michigan didn���t make the tournament. The Wolverines got there his freshman year, surprising everyone and stirring talk of how they���d keep moving up, with standouts Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims returning the following season. Instead, Michigan slumped to 15-17 in 2009-10, bowing out of the Big Ten Tournament by losing to Ohio State, 69-68, on Evan Turner���s buzzer-beater from near halfcourt. Many discounted the absence of captains C.J. Lee and David Merritt from that squad, after the former walk-ons became a feel-good story the year before. Novak never did, and never will. ���That year we lost our leadership,��� Novak said. ���Dave and C.J. were so good at what they did, that guys really just never had to lead at all. They took it under control, and when they left, there was this massive void, and no one really knew what to do. ���The difference between that year and this year is, we���ve got our leadership back. We���ve been through it. We���ve handled this with a lot of maturity. It���s got a different feel to it. ���I don���t have any worries. We���ve got guys who work hard, who want to be here, and who love basketball. That���s usually a recipe for success.��� Novak and Douglass will look to keep things cooking. They proved hands-on with teaching the freshmen already, and won���t abide a letdown in their final seasons. Someone mentioned to standout sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr. that this could be his team, because of the way he performed as a freshman. Hardaway quickly shut down that talk. ���I���m not going to say that, because we���ve got great leaders here in Zack and Stu,��� Hardaway said. ���I���ve told everybody, I wouldn���t want anybody else as my leader than those two.��� ���Our leadership this year, without a doubt, has done really well,��� junior Blake McLimans said. ���With our freshmen coming in and having that leadership right away, we���ll definitely advance them faster than usual, which is great. Our team chemistry has been so close. It definitely benefits us in workouts. ���We really coach each other. The competitiveness is great in all of our open gyms. We definitely have high goals for the year.��� Douglass exhibits a level of leadership and maturity even in how he fields the inevitable questions about playing time. He started 23 games in Head coach John Beilein will be looking to lead his squad to their third NCAA tourney in the last four seasons, but he stresses that the main goal is to get better each day. photo by lon horwedel

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