Photo credit: www.m-chiccheer.com
When the Wildcats of Northern Michigan University take the court for the first time in 2009, last season’s finish at the bottom of the GLIAC North will be forgotten.
Despite a formidable mountain in front of them when they take on the No. 15 Michigan Wolverines to start the season, this Wildcat squad is looking forward to another season of competitive basketball.
In front of them is a wide open division in the GLIAC conference. Despite a 6-16 conference record last season, the team believes they can compete for a championship. The road towards that goal must start with strong play and the continued building of team chemistry in the first two games against Division I opponents.
Against the University of Michigan, head coach Dean Ellis will begin his search for the best rotations on the court; whether it be with three guards or going bigger up front. The 2-3 zone defense will be pushed to the limit against play makers Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims.
Can the Wildcats show their talent on regional television and in front of the fans of Michigan basketball in Ann Arbor? Can the Wildcats put themselves in a position by playing well enough against Michigan to compete in in their next matchup against University of Wisconsin Green Bay?
All the questions of the upcoming season will be answered on the court. It starts tonight against the University of Michigan.
Dean Ellis, the longest tenured coach for any sport in NMU’s history, returns to the bench for his 24th year as the head coach of the Men’s basketball program. With 13 GLIAC Tournament appearances and a 358-278 record, Ellis has established himself as one of better coaches in Division II basketball.
His teams have set numerous school records and have made three Midwest Regional Division II tournaments.
Ellis has established a fast paced perimeter offense in his time at NMU, while finding talent to fill his offense in places that nobody else has really gone to recruit. Ellis has tapped into Canadian talent and has a higher percentage of players from the neighbors to the north than the Wildcat's hockey squad.
He is a fiery coach that will back his players on the court. A two-sport coach, Ellis will look to push his five returning seniors, the GLIAC Freshman of the Year, and the rest of his roster to compete at the highest level possible.
For Michigan, any college basketball fan can tell you how much of an impact John Beilien has had on the basketball program. Last year was the first time the Wolverines were part of the NCAA Tournament in 11 years.
Beilein is the only active coach in the collegiate ranks to record a 20-win season at four different levels—junior college, NAIA, NCAA Division II, and NCAA Division I.
He has winning records in 27 of his 31 years coaching, and has made 11 postseason appearances in 17 seasons as a Division 1 head coach. If that is not enough, the Wolverines played 19 NCAA Tournament opponents in 2008-2009.
After continuous struggles in Ann Arbor, it seems the Michigan faithful have a coach they can put their trust in. The Wolverines are on the rise nationally and a mass majority of it has to do with coach Beilein.
Probable Starting Lineups
G Zach Novak: Novak came onto the scene last season, and brings hard-nosed play to the court. The left handed shooter could play off guard, and at 6′5″ he could see some time at the small forward position.
G/F Manny Harris: One of the best play makers in the Big Ten, Harris is the game changer the Wolverines will go to all season. It won’t be surprising if he drops 30-plus points against NMU this weekend. Harris will play the three all season, but plays like a slashing point guard.
G Darrius Morris: Morris is one of the highly touted recruits in the backcourt for the Wolverines. The Los Angeles native seems to have an inside track on running the offense because he is physically ready for it. The question will be if he can mentally keep it together.
G Laval Lucas-Perry: After transferring from Arizona last season, Perry showed a flare for the dramatic. He will play some two guard and possible point guard in the Wolverine system.
F Deshawn Sims: It is unclear whether Sims will play at the 5 or 4 most of the season, but either way the Wolverines will need his production. The Senior will be asked to go to the boards. Sims is honing in on 500 rebounds in his Michigan Career.
Northern Michigan Wildcats
G Raymont McElroy: McElroy will run the floor most of this season for the ‘Cats. The GLIAC Freshmen of the Year last season will be asked to create offense by playing disciplined basketball. His shooting touch could and should be displayed more in his sophomore campaign.
G Chris Warner: One of the three senior guards that will see major play, Warner is the verbal leader of this squad and will be asked to drive to the hoop and to create offense from outside. Warner was an All-GLIAC First Team defensive player last season and will be on the court for most of every ballgame.
G Marc Renelique: Renelique led the GLIAC conference in three pointers made, but he might be asked to slow down on shot attempts in 2009. The senior guard made more three pointers than anyone in the conference, but didn't finish in the top 15 in three point percentage.
F Mark D’Agostino: D’Agostino battled injuries last season and was figuring out a new system. The undersized forward can battle inside with bigger bodies for rebounds. He will be critical on the defensive side of the floor.
C Jared Benson: Benson is the one player on this team that is expected to take his game to the next level on both sides of the floor. He has a sweet touch and great defensive ability. Now he has to use his basketball savvy to get his game and the NMU squad to the next level.
The Opposing View
Dylan Burkhardt of UM Hoops was kind enough to answer some of our questions surrounding the Michigan basketball program. If you are a fan of Big Ten basketball, Michigan Hoops or college basketball in general, UM Hoops is a must read daily. Here are Dylan’s thoughts on the upcoming season and tonight’s game.
Inside NMU Athletics : Last year Michigan got back in the national spotlight and showed that they are on the rise in the Big Ten conference. Is John Beilein the Michigan coach that gets this team to the next level?
UM Hoops: John Beilein is definitely the coach that will get Michigan back to the "next level." Last year’s Michigan team knocked off UCLA and Duke, and secured its first NCAA tournament bid in over a decade.
The best part was that it was all ahead of schedule. This was supposed to be the NCAA year with last year more of a rebuilding year. Beilein has won at every school and at every level that he’s coached. I think that he realizes the sky is the limit here at Michigan.
Inside NMU Athletics : Deshawn Sims without a doubt will be a big force offensively and defensively for the Wolverines. Is Sims going to perform at the Big Ten first-team level this season and what is his most important role in 2009?
UM Hoops : Sims doesn’t have the star power of Manny Harris, but you could make a strong argument that he performed at all-conference level last year. At 6'8", Sims plays the undersized center position for Michigan, and while he isn’t a game changer on defense he has an inside-out arsenal that allows him to take over games.
The problem with Sims is that he struggles with consistency. He’ll post ridiculous numbers in one game and be invisible the next. If Sims can improve his consistency it will bode very well for Michigan.
Inside NMU Athletics : Manny Harris is the offensive go-to guard for the Wolverines. He has averaged 16.5 points per game in his career. The Wolverines also depended on a lot of young guards last year for offense. Harris can dish the basketball, but still is considered the two guard in this system. Who do you think will contribute most at point guard?
UM Hoops : Manny Harris is essentially a scoring point guard on the wing. He really does it all: score, pass, and rebound. Harris plays the three for Michigan, which leaves room for two guards who share “point guard” responsibilities.
Beilein’s two-guard offense was designed to be run without a true point guard, but incoming freshman Darius Morris appears to be the starting point guard. Morris was a highly regarded recruit from Los Angeles who brings length (6'4") to the position and also is a natural point guard.
The biggest issue with Morris right now is that his jump shot isn’t quite up to speed with some of the other Wolverines. Laval Lucas-Perry and Stu Douglass will play off guard and share backup point guard responsibilities.
Inside NMU Athletics: Who do you think will be a surprising contributor to the Wolverines?
UM Hoops: It might not be a surprise to most Michigan fans, but I expect sophomore Zack Novak to have a great season. He doesn’t really look like a difference maker on the court but the 6'5" power forward (really) just makes plays. Novak is a great shooter and will stretch opposing defenses while making all of the hustle plays as well.
Inside NMU Athletics: What is Michigan’s Biggest Weakness going into 2009-2010?
UM Hoops : Michigan still lacks size on the interior. They start Sims (6'8") and Novak (6'5") at the center and power forward positions. This lack of size gives Michigan a huge disadvantage on two-point defense, and also prevents them from being a great rebounding team.
Inside NMU Athletics: What is their biggest strength?
UM Hoops: Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. Michigan will go as far as the duo from Detroit can take them. Harris and Sims can both take over the game and are poised for huge seasons. The stable of shooters around them shouldn’t hurt either.
Inside NMU Athletics: Are the Wolverines contenders for the Big Ten Title?
UM Hoops : I think they are contenders, but the conference is loaded. Purdue and Michigan State are the obvious front runners, but I think Michigan is in that second tier pack with teams like Ohio State, Illinois, and Minnesota. There are so many good teams in the conference that it’s all going to come down to a couple lucky bounces.
Inside NMU Athletics : What you are looking for in this weekend’s match up against NMU?
UM Hoops: It’ll be great to see Michigan playing a real game again. Last year’s season was great, but this year has the potential to be even better. In terms of specifics, I’ll be keeping an eye on freshmen Matt Vogrich and Darius Morris to continue to watch their development. Harris and Sims are a given commodity, but the freshmen are still a question mark at this point.
Television Coverage: Big Ten Network
Live Stats: CBS Game Tracker
Opposing Blog Preview: UM Hoops