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Michigan Notes

So Michigan Wolverines are off to a 2-0 start early this season with wins over Michigan Tech and Northeastern in the first two rounds of 2K Sports Classic Tournament. Michigan experienced a tough 10-22 season last year in Coach Beilein’s first year in Ann Arbor. In some ways the growing pains Wolverines experienced last year with a new coach who was trying to establish the foundation of his unique style and system (1-3-1 trap zone) was not unlike what Coach Howland experienced in his first year in Westwood.

Michigan is led by sophomore guard Manny Harris, who was anointed as the Big-10 player of the week, after his smoking hot season start averaging 28 points, 8.5 rebounds and five assists in their first two games. Wolverines are not a one man team though. Manny is getting a lot of help from forward DeShawn Sims who is averaging 14.5 points and 9.5 boards coming off the bench. These guys know full well, it will be a rocket boost for the Wolverines rebuilding psyche if they can pull off a win against a top-5 UCLA team on the national stage. From the Toledo Blade:

UM is feeling a bit better about itself after finishing 10-22 in Beilein's first season last year, but it also knows a win against the likes of UCLA would mean much more come March than either of its first two triumphs.

And win or lose, the Wolverines will either face No. 10 Duke or Southern Illinois on Friday night.

"We all know that this is a big game, a big game to go out and make a name for the team and get your respect," Harris said. "You live for games like this and we've got the opportunity, so it's big.

Of course it will not be the first time Harris and Sims are taking on our Ben Ball warriors. They gave us a fight last season leading us 27-24 at half time in Ann Arbor against a team that featured KL, LRMAM, RW and LMR. As noted in, Bruins ran away in the second half by playing classic Ben Ball via defense and rebounding:

Last year, UCLA scored 25 points in transition; Michigan struggled to defend Collison's quickness. The Wolverines were out-rebounded 36-18 and gave up 11 offensive rebounds - numbers Beilein knows his team can't afford Thursday.

But a year of working under Beilein's system has also changed Michigan's perspective.

While pointing to the positive remnants of last year's meeting, Beilein also senses a new comfort level, adding to what he believes is a better-shooting team.

"I think our kids will have a little more belief in themselves as they go in there," Beilein said. "At the same time (because of last year), I think UCLA would never take us lightly."

The Wolverines are confident if they build on their progress while not falling some familiar pitfalls, remaining within striking distance of the Bruins is possible.

"The biggest challenge is us not beating ourselves," Harris said.

So who is going to guard Harris? I am not sure how much time DC is going to spend guarding him because of the height advantage Harris (6-5) enjoys over DC. He might be took quick for JS. So, I think it might be that JH will get a major portion of Howland’s defensive assignment against Harris on Thursday night, which could be a tough situation for our talented freshman. It will be very interesting to see how Howland defends Manny out of the gate.

As for defending Sims, he is going to be a challenge for JK and rest of his front court team-mates. From what I have read on our first two games, JK has had a very so so start. This will be the game for him to step up and make a difference starting on the defensive side and making sure he is getting his share of the rebounds and maintaining presence down low.

Besides Sims, Michigan is getting notable contributions from other front court options. Wolverines’ other main score threat also comes from the front court via Zack Gibson. The 6-10, 220 lb junior forward is averaging about 7.5 points per game. Anthony Wright, a 6-6, 235 lb soph is third in the team averaging 5.0 boards per game. So, hopefully the Bruin frontcourt freshmen – DG and JM - who have been subjected to grueling film sessions heading into this game, will be read for Thursday night. They will need to scrap every possession on the defensive side and be relentless around the boards, which will jump start our offense.

I think the key will be how much defensive pressure DC, JS, JH, and ML will be able to generate on Harris and his backcourt mates. If they can force Harris to get out of rhythm and force the action, it will bode well for us. Can’t wait to find out how prepared our young guys are against a hungry, rebuilding program on Thursday night. Hope they are ready.