Everybody knows that Michigan was painfully undersized last year. They got abused inside by teams like Ohio State, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Their offensive and defensive rebounding numbers were near the bottom of the barrel in the Big Ten (8th and 9th respectively). Their average height of 76.1″ ranked 220nd in the NCAA and 10th in the Big Ten. In terms of Ken Pomeroy’s effective height statistic (a combination of block percentage, 2 pt% defense, eFG% defense, and adjusted defensive efficiency) only Indiana ranked lower in the conference.
Judging by Pomeroy’s rankings, center was actually not Michigan’s biggest concern size wise. Yes, DeShawn Sims is a bit small but he can get by at 6-foot-8. Point guard (Lee, Merritt, and Grady were all under 6 foot) and power forward (NOVAK) were Michigan’s biggest size concerns last year.
There are numerous solutions and combinations to try to alleviate the size issue. One of the most common suggestions is to move Sims back to the four position and throw Ben Cronin and Jordan Morgan in at the five. The most likely outcome is some sort of situational rotation – with Sims being the regular starter at the five and Gibson, Cronin, and Morgan providing situational playing time. (full positional breakdown after the jump)
DeShawn Sims has proven that he was more effective playing down low. The numbers don’t lie:
The improvement in every facet of Sims’ game was obvious last year. He excels when he plays inside-out rather than outside-in. For Michigan to be a truly effective offensive team, DeShawn Sims needs to remain down low and provide interior offense.
Despite his consistency issues, we know Sims’ abilities. He has a tremendous arsenal of post moves and he also has a sweet mid range jump shot. When he’s on, he’s almost impossible to stop (ask the Hawkeyes).
Zack is an enigma. He shows flashes of brilliance like his impressive play in Kansas City during the NCAA tournament or his big game against Illinois. But his numbers are just ugly. 23% three point shooting was just one of the reasons I gave him a D+ on his report card.
I look back to the NCAA games in Kansas City where Zack pulled down more rebounds than he had in the previous 7 games combined. He played with a sense of urgency and managed to play aggressive while staying out of foul trouble. Hopefully he studies that film because that is how Michigan needs him to play night in and night out.
There are going to be opportunities for Zack to succeed with this team, but there have been opportunities the last two years as well. Is this the year that Gibson finally puts it together? I see little reason to believe that he will, he will have a couple good games but expecting him to be a consistent contributor seems like a pipe dream at this point.
Gibson can play the four or the five in this system. Offensively he doesn’t have much of a back to the basket game and defensively he has the size to guard (skinny) big guys in man to man but also has the length to play on the wing of the 1-3-1.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding Ben Cronin but the one thing we are sure of: he’s huge. Ben’s health is up in the air because no one knows how his surgically repaired hip will react to the stress of the season but by all accounts Cronin is ready to go.
What can we expect from Cronin? Big men, who aren’t headed to the NBA after one year of college, typically need plenty of time to develop. The frustrating thing about Cronin’s early career is that he has probably spent more time on rehab than skill development since he arrived in Ann Arbor.
Just because of his size, I expect Ben to get some playing time against teams with significant size in the front court. He should be able to help in games when Michigan is struggling on the glass or with interior defense but it will come as a net-negative on the offensive side of the ball where Cronin’s main role will probably be setting picks.
Morgan is another question mark. He underwent knee surgery this summer after injuring his knee while walking. He is in the rehab process and should be ready to go at some point this fall but there is no guarantee about when he’ll be ready. Even if he is healthy, a red shirt is not out of the question.
Assuming Morgan plays, the hope is that he, like Cronin, would provide some rebounding punch inside. Morgan isn’t a 7 footer like Cronin but he is a wide body. Morgan needs to be an animal on the glass but he was never really described as a high motor guy in high school.
His size, strength, and above average athletic ability make him an intriguing prospect but it remains to be seen if he is ready to play at this level.
DeShawn Sims is this team’s starting center. Say what you want about his size but this team needs him on the block. Sims posted terrific numbers last year despite being nearly invisible at times. He will have to improve on his consistency.
The best part about Michigan’s front court options is that they have options. Cronin and Morgan are huge question marks, and I still wouldn’t be shocked to see Morgan redshirt, but they at least give Beilein a full hand of cards to play with.
The combinations across the four and five positions will be interesting… I still see Novak and Sims starting, however Sims could slide over and play alongside Gibson, Cronin, or Morgan as well if Michigan wants to go big. If Michigan keeps Sims at the five, McLimans or Gibson are a couple of taller alternatives at the four position.
I am sure we will see a lot of tinkering in the front court early on while Beilein tries to settle on some working combinations before heading to Orlando. Two (Creighton and Marquette) of the three teams on Michigan’s side of the Old Spice bracket don’t have much size and aren’t dominant rebounding teams. However a potential match-up with Xavier would be a huge test for the Michigan front court. The Musketeers feature 7-footer Kenny Frease and were one of the top rebounding teams in the country a year ago.