Michigan Basketball: 5 Wolverines Who Must Step Up Against Illini

Troy BelcherCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2012

Michigan Basketball: 5 Wolverines Who Must Step Up Against Illini

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    The Michigan Wolverines have been one of the most inconsistent ballclubs in the nation this year. Although they are 18-7, which is the best start the Wolverines have had under John Beilein, they haven't won consecutive games since January 8-11.

    This lack of consistency is due in large part to the incredibly sloppy play of Michigan's leading scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway Jr. is shooting just 22 percent in the Wolverines' last three games, and is shooting just 26 percent from behind the arc for the season.

    Jordan Morgan, Michigan's best low-post threat, has had an immaculate season. Morgan is shooting 65 percent from field, but the problem is the Wolverines don't feed him the ball enough, and that's likely what has propelled his shooting percentage.

    In Michigan's last game in Lincoln against Nebraska, they consistently settled for the three ball in the first half, and struggled. In the second half, though, the Wolverines ran a smooth flow of offense and found Morgan in the low post for high-percentage shots. Hardaway Jr. also drove to the basket more and had a lot more success.

    Tomorrow the Wolverines start their two-game home stretch against the 16-8 Illinois Fighting Illini. If Michigan wants to win this game and stay in the race for a Big Ten Championship, these are the five players that must step up and play consistent basketball.

Jordan Morgan

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    There's no doubt Jordan Morgan has been a premier player for this Michigan offense in 2011-12, shooting 65 percent from the field.

    It's not so much here that Morgan needs to improve his game, it's more of he needs to demand the ball more in the paint.

    Michigan is one of the most three-point shooting teams in the entire nation, due to their lack of size down low. Especially when the Wolverines are struggling and down by double digits, they really rely on the three.

    Morgan has proven that he's a solid player, and that he can put the ball on the floor, use his size to get around defenders, and make baskets.

    Head coach John Beilein needs to center more of his offense around Morgan and less around shooting the ball from behind the arc. Either that, or Morgan needs to demand the ball down low more.

    Trey Burke has been an extraordinary freshman this year, only trailing Hardaway Jr. in points with 14.0 a game. When Michigan runs a smooth offense, it starts with Burke, and usually ends with Morgan down low. Beilein needs to utilize the tandem of Burke and Morgan more often if he wants his Wolverines to be consistent.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    Michigan's leading scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr., has struggled quite often recently, and if you're a Michigan fan as I am, that goes without saying.

    Along with Beilein relying on the three ball so heavily, comes with Hardaway Jr. essentially forcing shots from behind the arc when he is struggling to score.

    In Michigan's last game with Nebraska, you could hear the commentators calling the game repeatedly stating that Hardaway Jr. looks as if he is low on confidence, and just doesn't look fluid shooting the ball.

    Although Hardaway Jr. was 0-of-6 from behind the arc in his last game, he came out in the second half, drove the lane and had some success.

    If you hadn't noticed, it seems as if every time Hardaway Jr. touches the ball, he's launching the three ball at will. If he's hot, it goes down; if he's struggling, he won't make one.

    Hardaway Jr. is just as much part of this Wolverines offense as Trey Burke and Jordan Morgan, and with that he needs to focus on his gifted athletic ability, and stop forcing up contested three-pointers. It almost seems like this is a recurring theme from Hardaway Jr., and that's an issue that would fall in the lap of Coach Beilein.

    If the Wolverines want to beat the Illini tomorrow, they must start the offense with Burke, use high ball screens to free Morgan in the low post and work Hardaway Jr. into some mid-range jumpers instead of consistently lazy three-point shots.

Evan Smotrycz

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    Evan Smotrycz has shown his ability to knock down long-range shots this season, but is almost like Morgan in the fact he isn't seeing enough action.

    The problem with the Wolverines right now is they don't realize why they are struggling, and until they do they will continue to be inconsistent.

    The Michigan offense is too reliant on the big shooters, such as Hardaway Jr., Stu Douglass and Zack Novak. The Michigan defense doesn't utilize what size they do have down low, and struggle to retrieve defense rebounds and allow second-chance points too often.

    The point being, Smotrycz needs to be more involved in the game, period. Just like Morgan, it isn't so much he needs to improve his play, because he's shooting 46 percent on the year; it's that he needs to demand more involvement in the game.

    If Smotrycz and Morgan played more often together, then Michigan would be more successful. It would provide size on both ends of the court, and Smotrycz is an added dimension to the three-point game.

    The Wolverines don't have one classified center on their team; that spells no size whatsoever. If Michigan utilized more often what size they do have in Morgan and Smotrycz, and even Blake McLimans, then they would be much more successful.

Stu Douglass

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    Michigan is always going to shoot the three ball heavily; it's just how their offense works. There is a big difference, though, in using the three to their advantage and not using it to their advantage.

    Stu Douglass is a big part of that three-point game, even though he's only shooting 34 percent from behind the arc this season. In his last four games, he's only hit 6-of-17 three-point shots. If Michigan wants to keep the three-point game as a main facet of their offense, they must get a lot more consistency from it.

    The only player that has been consistent this year has been the Wolverines' leader, Zack Novak. Novak leads the Wolverines this season in field-goal percentage, with 50.9 percent. He has essentially carried this basketball team on his back, and he can't do it all alone.

    Douglass is a big part of production on this Michigan offense. He's shown the innate ability to knock threes down at will. In order for Michigan's offense to be successful, he must be able to consistently knock down his mid- to long-range jumpers, and be a good assist man.

    If Douglass can be half as consistent as Novak has been the entire year, then Michigan could potentially be a big threat down the stretch.

Matt Vogrich

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    Matt Vogrich only averages 10.2 minutes a game, but he's played in every game this season and has shown flashes of a very talented long-range shooter.

    Last week against the Cornhuskers, Vogrich came in late in the game and knocked down three consecutive three-point shots, and his demeanor in making them exhibited confidence and ease.

    This is something the Wolverines can feed off of. Obviously, the three-point shot has been a main theme in this article and a main theme in the Wolverines offense. If shooting from behind the arc is going to be this prevalent, then John Beilein needs to have the formula to make it work a lot better than it has been.

    As previously mentioned, Michigan falls in love with the three-point shot when they are struggling, and that's not something any team wants to do. If a team like Michigan is going to be so reliant on one facet of the game, then do whatever possible to be consistent with it.

    Vogrich is a very skilled athlete off the bench. Not only can he knock down the three, he can take the ball inside with good athleticism. That can open up many opportunities for Jordan Morgan down low as well.

    Michigan's formula for success is this: Shoot the three ball only when open or when necessary, and run a fluid offense that utilizes Jordan Morgan more often. Defensively, use the tandem of Morgan and Smotrycz in the paint. Size is good; use what you have of it. Also, focus more on using the 2-3 zone; this prevents opponents from getting open looks possession after possession.

    If the Wolverines want to beat the Illini tomorrow, then they need to look to Vogrich as part of their three-point plan.