Conversations with the Enemy: Maize 'n Brew

As KJ said earlier, we don't do a lot of interviews with bloggers.  However, we've decided to go along with the unofficial theme of this basketball season, "When It Rains It Pours", and do another one.  I asked Remember Bo from Maize 'n Brew a few questions, with my queries in block quotes.

- The man-to-man defense Michigan deployed was very effective in the nonconference schedule but is porous currently.  What happened?

Honestly, I think Michigan's man-to-man has cost them games at times this year.  The big issue for us has been transition D and defending 3-point misses with long rebounds and outlet passes - when you miss 10-15 3's a game, you damn well better be able to defend your misses.  Michigan's also struggled with defensive switching and handling dominant big men down low - their man-to-man has been better against small, quick teams because Zack Novak is just pesky and they just don't have the size or depth (Goran Suton) to defend a Sullinger.  We haven't been lacking grit or hustle, I'm just concerned that the scheme doesn't fit the talent.  Michigan's zone has been the best aspect of their defense this year, as Beilein's a master of the 1-3-1 and has shown he can use it to frustrate teams this year.  Take Kansas for example - when we needed a stop, the 1-3-1 forced them into some awkward shots late in the shot clock and got us to OT, where our man-to-man fell apart.
- Darius Morris has been the most pleasant surprise on this team, and has performed well in the Big Ten so far.  What's been the biggest difference in his play?

Last year, we saw flashes of D-Mo, but playing with a ball-hogging/disinterested Manny Harris really hurt him.  I'm honestly not surprised by D-Mo this year - but I'm surprised that he's done such a good job making his teammates better when all they like to do is shoot the 3.  I think another big plus this year is that Tim Hardaway has established himself as a shooter, allowing Morris to slash to the hoop more (which I still think he needs to do even more).  Statistically speaking, he's gotten his turnovers down at times (7-3 AST/TO ratio this year) and has shown willingness to take (and hit) the clutch shots.  So if I had to pick one thing for him to do Thursday night, it'd be keeping the TO's down and hitting his teammates.  If he does this, Michigan stays in the game.

- True or False - Zack Novak is the second best player for the Wolverines. Explain your work with relevant examples.

Michigan State's School of Ed is pretty good - I'd have thought we'd be beyond T/F questions at this point.  But I'll bite.  Yeah, he is.  He's the embodiment of the Beilein system - reminds me of a poor man's Kevin Pittsnoggle in both name and talent.  He's our best rebounder at 6.3 per game (on a small team, this isn't saying much) and a veteran presence.  He's improved his physical skills quite a bit, but at the end of the day, Beilein's teams are gritty and pesky, and that's Novak to the T.  There's always this.

But second-best doesn't necessarily mean second-most-important.  Beyond D-Mo, I think that player is whoever can step up as a big.  If Michigan doesn't find some consistency soon, they're in trouble.

- Tim Hardaway Jr. takes the biggest percentage of Michigan's shots, yet makes only 43% of his twos and just under 30% of his threes.  Should he still keep firing away?

Gaah.  I'm not sure how to answer this.  He's been taking some pressure off of Morris (who at 50+% is the better shooter) but the 3-pointers have really hurt Michigan at times.  I think he needs to be a little bit more cautious with his shot selection and understand where he and the team is in the game before chucking some up.  When he gets cold, he needs to be more of a facilitator, which Morris understands better.  But it's a veteran thing, and the kid's in his first season.  He'll get it.  We're all pretty excited about his development here in Ann Arbor.  He and Jordan Morgan have been nice surprises. 

- Lastly, give me two things Michigan needs to do to beat MSU, the one thing the Wolverines absolutely cannot do, and a prediction if you're so inclined.

Besides scoring more points that MSU? (as a Georgetown homer, having paid them entirely too much in tuition, hearing Doug Gottleib say this as a key to the game multiple times a year makes me vomit) Michigan needs to play consistently as a team.  Sorry to be so cliche, but they click well when they keep their heads about them and see open teammates.

But because they're at the Breslin Center and Izzo is the best coach in America not named Krywhatever, there is no hope of this happening.  Michigan State will frustrate Michigan into turnovers and poor shot selection.  So they need to hit their 3's.  I really hate the 3-point shot - Michigan might as well roll the ball out of bounds instead of taking so many bad ones.  I understand the importance of the 3-ball for momentum, but, man, MIchigan has shot themselves in the foot so many times by taking a 3 down a few points and then having the other team convert on the other end, resulting in a 5-6 point swing and a hole very difficult to get out of.

To sum up:  Michigan needs to play cohesively (not happening if Izzo brings it) and shoot the lights out (I'd give this a 30% chance of happening, given their season percentages) to stay close.  I think Morris is also key, and some transcendent guard play might really make the difference.  Again though, I don't put much stock in this happening, because Michigan is a very young team that hasn't consistently shot well.  The best I can hope for is a close game at the half and a better-coached MSU team pulling away in the first 10 minutes of the second half then holding that lead.  MSU 67-55, but I'm slightly more optimistic than at the beginning of the season for M's chances due to good showings against good teams and MSU's turmoil.
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