John Beilein appears to be set on playing Zack Novak at the two, ridding himself of “the smallest four man in Division-I basketball” and leaving Colton Christian and Evan Smotrycz battling to be the starting four.
Smotrycz is the most highly touted recruit in John Beilein’s freshman class. He exploded on the AAU circuit during the summer of 2009, earning a spot in various top 100 rankings and invitations to a number of prestigious camps. Christian’s recruitment wasn’t nearly as glamorous, he was a Tulane decommitment that received very little recruiting interest from high major programs while playing at Hargrave Military Academy.
Christian and Smotrycz not only had drastically different recruitments, they also have contrasting styles of play and bring different elements to the table. Smotrycz is bigger, more skilled, and an offensive player. On the other hand, Christian is the more athletic player, a high energy guy that looks to contribute with his defense and rebounding.
Instead of writing player profiles for each player, we’ll compare their games and try to figure out how they fit into this year’s plans.
- Height: Smotrycz is a legitimate 6-foot-9, which makes him the second tallest player on Michigan’s roster. His wingspan is lacking a bit, measuring at 77" last summer (shorter than both Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, who were both measured at the same camp), but he provides a big body at the four position.
- Skill: At Smotrycz’ size, he brings an incredible amount of offensive skill to the table – a recipe for success in Beilein’s offense. Smotrycz has the ability to put the ball on the floor and is comfortable getting his shot off in a number of ways.
- Shooting: Smotrycz’ meteoric rise up the recruiting charts was predicated on his lights out shooting on the AAU circuit. It’s clear the shooting ability is there, however the cause for concern is that Evan hit a few rough patches shooting the ball during his final year at New Hampton.
- Defense: Smotrycz has bulked up to 225lbs (from 212lbs last summer) which is encouraging in regards to post defense – but defense has never been considered Smotrycz’ strength.
- Shot selection: Beilein has already pointed out that there “isn’t a shot Evan doesn’t like.” Confidence for a freshman is a good thing, but there might be a learning period where Smotrycz figures out what constitutes a good or bad shot.
- Rebounding: From early reports, Christian is one of the top athletes on the team and embraces doing the dirty work. He realizes that cleaning up the glass will get him on the floor.
- Defense: Similar to rebounding, Christian has also been praised for his defense. Beilein has pointed him out a number of times as a defensive stopper and he probably has the versatility to guard several different offensive positions.
- Offensive Skill: Christian has admitted that, throughout his prep career, he played almost entirely down low. This is great for his rebounding ability, but at the four position in Beilein’s offense, he needs to be able to put the ball on the floor and knock down jump shots.
- Size: At 6-foot-6 215lbs, Christian has the ability to guard
a number of positions. The problem is that the four position, where he’ll play, might not be the ideal position for him to defend. At this point, he doesn’t appear big enough to guard someone like Mike Davis, at 6-foot-9.
The two players are almost complete opposites. One possesses an unnatural combination of size and skill while the other brings the energy, athleticism and defense. At this point, it appears that both are likely to play considerable minutes.
When comparing both players, one thing to keep in mind is how their games will translate to this level. Both players had an extra year of prep, making them 19 year old freshmen, but my thinking is that Christian’s game might allow him to hit the ground running. Smotrycz has more moving parts to his game, offensively there might be things that he could do against prep defenders that just don’t work as easily at this level.
Both players will undoubtedly experience ups and downs, especially early on, but in the non-conference season I expect them both to get plenty of minutes – likely split 50-50 to start.
There is also the (likely?) possibility that Zack Novak will continue to see a lot of time at the four. He still played the position for stretches in Europe (Christian was out) and he has played it for the majority of his first two years in Ann Arbor. Novak is not ideal for the position, and Beilein and Novak himself are telling everyone that will listen that he is a two this year, but if either freshman struggles, or is injured, we will have to see Novak back at the four. (Novak will have his own player profile, coming soon)
The sky is the limit for Evan Smotrycz. He’s tailor made for this offense and the biggest question is just how long it takes him to adapt. Christian’s ceiling is much more limited, but he should be able to do enough of the little things to warrant playing time.