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Carlos Previews Michigan

Even non-Duke fans have to feel a little sympathy for former Blue
Devil, Tommy Amaker. When it comes time to build the Bad Career Move
Hall of Fame you can be sure they'll be casting Amaker's bust with a reference
to his time as the head coach of the Michigan basketball program. I suppose
there could be worse jobs in history in which one could land - like say,
Commander of the Maginot Line around 1940. But even with that you
have to remember that Michigan basketball has had many years of success
whereas the French military is, well, French.

So with that in mind, Amaker may be in as bad a position as you could
imagine. First he has to try and rebuild a team that has suffered
from several years where Brian Ellerbee turned in a Gutheridgesque recruiting
effort. Then, despite the assurances of Michigan officials to the
contrary when he was interviewing for the position, Amaker finds the program
embroiled in controversy when the Ed Martin is indicted. Things continue
to get worse when the university later imposes its own penalties for the
situation with Martin. Then, this year, in addition to dealing with
a poor start, Amaker has lost two players - one to dismissal and one who
announced he was transferring. At this rate, all that's left is for
Ed Martin to ask for his money back.

What Amaker has to deal with is a collection of 4 returning scholarship
players, 4 freshmen, and 4 walk-ons. With the way things are going
for Michigan it won't be long before Amaker has to suit up Ollie from Hoosiers.
So far the Wolverines have jumped out to a 0-5 record although most of
the losses have been relatively close. That's probably of little
consolation to supporters of the team, especially since most of those losses
have come at the hands of unheralded programs like Kansas State and Virginia
Tech. Worse yet, Michigan is at risk of becoming the worst basketball
program in the state. You can live with it when a quality program
like Michigan State has a better year (uh, decade) than you, but when you're
Michigan and suddenly you're losing to teams like Western Michigan and
Central Michigan, well someone's got some 'splainin to do. Fortunately
for Amaker and Co., there's always Eastern Michigan. You know somewhere
in the Michigan Athletic department the AD has the 12/23 contest with the
250th ranked Eagles circled on the calendar. Of course, Eastern Michigan
may be looking forward to that game also.


The dismissal of Avery Queen (a 5-7 junior point guard) and the transfer
of Dommanic Ingerson (a 6-4 sophomore shooting guard) leaves the Wolverines
with little depth in the backcourt. Queen had averaged about 27 minutes
a game last year while splitting playing time at the point guard last year
with Mike Gotfredson, a departed senior and Ingerson started every game
at the off guard. Queen's departure forces the Wolverines to rely
heavily upon highly-touted freshman Daniel Horton.

The 6-3 Texas native was a McDonald's All-American and generally rated
as one of the top point guards in last year's recruiting class. He
was a prolific scorer in HS, averaging over 25 ppg and is equally comfortable
taking the ball to the basket or launching the outside shot. Through
Michigan's first 5 games Horton has been a consistent scorer, although
he's yet to display the smooth touch from the outside he displayed in HS.
He's also averaging over 3 turnovers a game, a problem reflective of the
team as a whole. Those turnovers would be a little easier to accept
if he was doing a better job of distributing the ball.

So, to summarize Horton, plays the point guard, good shooter struggling
from the field, drives the ball well, and is turnover prone. Sounds
like the kind of guy who will take the newly renamed Bootsie Bernard Darby

Joining Horton in the backcourt is veteran Bernard Robinson, Jr. a 6-6
junior. In his first game against Duke during the 2001 season, Robinson
played well, scoring 19 points on 6-8 shooting from the field. But
he followed that up last year with a 2-11, 4 point outing in the game at
Crisler Arena. Offensively Robinson is more of a scorer than a shooter.
He's an average three-point shooter but is very successful taking the ball
off the dribble. He has an explosive first step which he uses to
create shots for himself and his teammates. Robinson is the team's
leading playmaker this season, averaging just over 3 assists per game.

If you want a good example of just how far things have fallen for the
Michigan program consider this - the backup for Horton at point is another
freshman. Not just another freshman though, a walk-on freshman.
Technically, 6-3 Sherrod Harrell is considered a "preferred walk-on," which
means he was recruited by Michigan, but not offered a scholarship.
He was offered scholarships by both Western Michigan and Central Michigan,
names that now show up under the "L" column on the Michigan schedule.
Harrell's role when he's in the game is to play solid defense and run the
team without any turnovers. Basically that's the same "just don't
screw things up" instructions that Dick Cheney muttered before he headed
for the bunker.

Also coming off the Michigan bench is Gavin Groninger, a 6-5 senior
who is generally regarded as the best shooter on the Wolverine team.
Of course, selecting the best shooter off a Michigan team shooting 27%
from beyond the three-point line is about like picking the best Steven
Seagal movie. (Here I think I'll have to go with The Glimmer Man
as it is a mercifully short 88 minutes.) Groninger is a great shooter
if you're talking about a game of H-O-R-S-E. If he gets time to set
up, square his body, and get a clear look at the basket, he'll make nearly
every shot. But it's aspect of getting time to do all that that proves
to be his shortcoming. Groninger has a noticeable lack of footspeed
and on a Michigan team that isn't particularly adept at setting screens
he finds it difficult to get open looks.


Returning for his senior season and once again leading the team in
both scoring and rebounding is LaVell Blanchard, a 6-7 forward who was
once recruited by Krzyzewski. Blanchard is a tireless rebounder,
particularly on the offensive end of the court where he scores many of
his baskets on put-backs. He's somewhat effective from the outside
but is more of a streak shooter. Defensively he can struggle, particularly
against bigger opponents.

At the other forward spot is 6-6 freshman Lester Abram, a slashing wing
player who, like many on this team, is struggling from the field.
Abram, who played some point guard in HS, is strong with the ball but probably
more effective moving without, especially when he cuts to the hoop.
He can be foul prone on defense.

Rounding out the frontcourt is another freshman, 6-10 Chris Hunter.
At 210 lbs., he has trouble defending more physical post players.
He makes up for that with his athleticism and leaping ability (he leads
the team in blocks). Hunter is probably a year or two away from realizing
his sizable potential. He has good hands and can play facing the
basket, although it's unlikely he'll be able to do that for a Michigan
team that lacks many sizable players.

Backing up the starters are 6-7 sophomore Chuck Bailey and freshman
Graham Brown. Bailey saw limited time last season but is an effective
inside scorer. Inside in this case is defined as within 5 feet of
the basket, or the Haywood Zone if you prefer. Bailey is most often
used at power forward or center because of his limited range. That
presents some defensive problems for the Wolverines because he lacks the
size to square off against physical inside players. At 6-9/245 lbs.
Brown is not lacking in size. He's a little slow on defense but has
a decent mid-range jumper. He's an entirely different type of post
player than Hunter, using his strength to establish position rather than
relying on athleticism.


It's not a particularly good time for Tommy Amaker to be making his
return to Cameron. Normally you could count on Krzyzewski having
some concern about pummeling his former assistant too badly. How
else could you explain last year's 104-83 score as opposed to the 104-61
tally from the 2001 season? (On a side note, Duke has scored 104
points in each of the last three meetings with Michigan. The first
of which was the 104-97 game in the 2000 season.) But the problem
is that Krzyzewski's primary concern is always the Duke team. And
this Duke team has exhibited a troubling trend in the last 3 games by first
establishing big leads and then subsequently watching Davidson, UCLA, and
finally Ohio State claw their way back into games.

The top goal for this Duke team has to be to play hard for 40 minutes
regardless of the score. The team needs to develop that killer instinct
that has traditionally marked Krzyzewski's squads over the years.
So, uh, sorry Tommy.

On offense, the Devils have plenty of areas where they can exploit Michigan.
The Wolverines have not been particularly effective defending the perimeter
this year, allowing opponents to shoot over 40% from beyond the three-point
line. They've been equally inept playing a zone or a man defense.
Somewhere out there JJ Redick is probably rehearsing his post game interview
with Bob Harris (also known as "our Bob Harris" if you listen to enough
Duke basketball pregame shows).

Don't just look for Duke to concentrate on the outside game. Michigan's
interior defense is undersized and lacks the physical strength to deal
with the inside game of most major college teams. It's likely Duke
will try to work the ball inside with the team still struggling to define
a frontcourt rotation and needing to develop improved play from both Shelden
Williams and Shavlik Randolph.

Defensively the Devils should really be able to crank up the pressure
on a team that averages nearly 20 turnovers a game. Horton is a talented
guard but is also just a freshman and has struggled to play a controlled
offensive game thus far into his career. Robinson has always been
a high risk/high reward type of player and will make as many turnovers
as he does assists. The game will also feature a potentially great
matchup with Robinson and Duke's defensive stopper, Dahntay Jones and also
a troubling matchup with Blanchard and the Duke forward assigned to defend

Overall this is game is almost custom made for the Devils. They
get the chance to use their pressure defense to create turnovers and easy
baskets. They get the chance to develop an undefined interior game
and hone an already sharp outside game. And they get the chance to
continue to play aggressively with a big lead.

The "almost" in the "almost custom made" and the unfortunate part about
all of that is that they have to do it against one of Duke's favorite sons.