Take 5 With David Merritt: Old Spice Classic

merritt-layupDavid Merritt (@DavidMerritt15) has managed to keep himself busy since graduation. This summer he started his own apparel company, IMU (The Inside Out), and he has also been calling Michigan basketball games on the radio. Luckily he agreed to add just one more task to his plate, a regular Q&A feature here at UMHoops.

Merritt has obviously been there and done that, playing for Beilein for two years and captaining last year’s NCAA tournament team. His understanding of not only Michigan’s personnel but their schemes should provide a unique insider perspective going forward.

Finishing 1-2 in the Old Spice Classic was obviously a disappointment. How do you think this team will react and what does it take to regroup after a very frustrating loss or two?

Those losses will hurt, especially the Alabama game. I mean those are the type of losses that really sting because we controlled most of the game, forced 19 turnovers, but still came up short. However, I think this team will respond. It’s early in the season and I think Michigan realizes that they have a lot to work on and nothing this year will be handed to them. To regroup, it takes an enormous amount of focus and amnesia. You must learn from the tournament by watching film and then working on those teaching points in practice. However, you must forget about what happened in Orlando. Forget that we shot the ball pretty poorly. Forget that we lost two games. Boston College should be the only thing on their minds.

Michigan’s defense has obviously struggled in the early going. What will it take to improve? Obviously the personnel isn’t going to change much but what do they have to start doing a better job of?

Defense is not a “let’s come out here and play hard defense today” kind of thing. Strong defensive skills must come from practice. Learning how to play great defense in major Div. 1 College Basketball is extremely tough. Most teams run so many actions at the same time that concepts are extremely tough to learn. Not to mention this team has a lot of new parts, several players playing different positions than last year, and a freshman starting point guard.

So far, dribble penetration is hurting us but I think we did a much better job of coming over to help vs. Alabama. Michigan showed its best defensive effort vs. Alabama so that was encouraging. And “effort” is a key word there because that was the main difference. Michigan was a lot more active, which helped force the 19 turnovers. However, there’s something called “help the helper.” It’s the complete rotation, where not only does one player come over to help, but another player then helps whoever went to help. That’s a major weakness right now and a big reason why we aren’t rebounding the ball like we should. If we were completing our full rotations, we would be in a better position to make a hit and box somebody out. Having a mindset to box out instead of watching the ball come off the rim needs to be engrained in Michigan’s head pretty quickly.(ie. last Alabama possession – offensive rebound and put back)

Darius Morris is manning your old position in the backcourt, can you give any kind of perspective about how much has to be swimming through his head just 5 games into his first year of college basketball?

I think Darius is doing a good job. He had a tough game against Alabama but that’s expected. I really liked that he was a lot more vocal and took control of the offense when plays broke down. Darius has also shown an ability to get to the basket, which will really help this team. And let’s just be frank, running Coach Beilein’s offense is no easy task. Every action the defense makes has a reaction and it’s going to take a while for him to learn all the reactions. So I’m sure a lot is going through his mind but I think he has handled the position well so far, especially going against full court pressure for the last three games.

gibson-dunkZack Gibson has been a pleasant surprise averaging 7 points and 3 rebounds in only 11 minutes per game. What is different from Zack this year and what kind of a niche can he carve out going forward?

Confidence and his mentality. Look, Zack Gibson has game and has always had it. I remember our scout team days during Zack’s transfer year and everyone knew he had the chance to be really good. It’s really up to Zack to determine how much he wants to contribute to this team because there’s so much there. I truly think he’s the X Factor this year and will be leaned upon to “go big” playing bigger teams. The Zack Gibson, DeShawn Sims line up needs more minutes out on the floor. Zack Novak has soooo much heart, but 6’4 is 6’4.

Manny Harris was simply phenomenal in Orlando, averaging 22.66 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals per game. Instead of harping on everything he does well, what’s one area where you think he could really improve?

Manny Harris is doing it all, flat out. Phenomenal player. I’ll answer the question though. Manny Harris is shooting 46% from the floor. How do you shoot 46% from the floor when you are only shooting 3-23 from the 3 point line in 5 games. That means, Manny Harris is shooting 59% from two-point range. 59%! So it comes down to shot selection. At times during the game, Manny will start to press and take shots he really shouldn’t take. He has got to improve in this area because every offensive possession is key. On another note, I think he can start dumping the ball more to Sims on fast breaks and dribble penetration. DeShawn needs more touches inside and needs to find a rhythm, and Manny can easily help him do that by just dumping it to him when he gets into the lane. 6 assists/game for Manny Harris though. How many records will he break if he stays around here another year?

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